Bonassar's lab, which focuses on the regeneration and analysis of musculoskeletal tissue, engineered artificial discs out of two polymers collagen, which wraps around the outside, and a hydrogel called alginate in the middle. They seeded the implants with cells that repopulate the structures with new tissue. Remarkably, as opposed to artificial implants today that degrade over time, the scientists are seeing that the implants get better as they mature in the body, due to the growth of the cells.
"Our implants have maintained 70 to 80 percent of initial disc height. In fact, the mechanical properties get better with time," says Bonassar.
The implants would treat a broad category of illness called degenerative disc disease a leading cause of disability worldwide. According to Hrtl, an increasing number of patients need treatment or surgery from the degeneration of the intervertebral disc. A surgical procedure approved by the FDA in 2005 involves removing the disc completely and replacing it with an implant made of a combination of metal and plastic, with the aim of mimicking the normal movement of the lumbar and spine.
"Bone or metal or plastic implants are complicated structures which come with a mechanical risk of the structures moving around, or debris from the metal or plastic particles accumulating in the body from wear and tear," says Hrtl.
From a biological perspective, the new discs could create a "huge advantage" over traditional implants because of how they integrate and mature with the vertebrae. This major surgery would become less invasive, safer and come with fewer long-term side effects, he says.
The scientists began collaborating on the project in 2006, first funded by an Ithaca-Weill seed grant. Since then, the project has moved into animal testing stages,
|Contact: Syl Kacapyr|