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Scientists: Bio-tech spinal implant could ease back pain

By Elizabeth Cunningham Perkins     Aug 3, 2011 in Science
Cornell University engineers and doctors announced they have built a bioengineered implant to replace injured or degenerated intervertebral spinal column discs, in a project that has advanced to the animal testing stages, ScienceDaily reported.
According to the ScienceDaily article, Cornell's written statement and the research paper about the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
The artificial, biologically-based intervertebral discs have the same structure, components and behavior as natural discs, the researchers explained, with an outer, stiff part, called the annulus, and an inner gel-like center, called the nucleus pulposus, capable of bearing weight when pressurized.
The scientists seeded cells between two polymers, a middle layer of the hydrogel alginate, and a surrounding outside layer of collagen.
The tissue-engineered, living intervertebral disc were then implanted into rat spines for six months, and functioned like natural discs, the researchers concluded.
The team was surprised to note that these implants improved as they began growing new cells, and integrated with surrounding tissues.
This study has demonstrated that engineering a functional biological spinal disc for humans, as a treatment for degenerative disc disease, is feasible, according to the researchers.
A live disc implant would preserve flexibility, unlike the surgery called discectomy, or implants made of bone, metal or plastic, the scientists claimed.
But some experts have expressed caution about this study, emphasizing this new approach is a long way from practical implementation in humans, while disc degeneration alone accounts for only a small percentage of back pain, according to Healthfinder.gov.
More about bioengineering, Biotech, bioengeneered spinal disc, live spinal disc, Back pain