TUESDAY, Aug. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Special bioengineered spinal discs seem to grow and replace damaged discs -- at least in rats, a new study shows.
While trials in humans remain years away, implants like these, made of cells and collagen, may one day help people with back pain caused by degenerative disc disease.
They might also last longer than the more artificial replacement discs in use today.
"These living implants are stiffer and stronger at six months than when we first put them in and, ultimately, they will last longer than purely metallic or plastic implants," said study author Lawrence J. Bonassar, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
The new findings appear in the Aug. 1 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The new spinal bio-discs are composed of sheep cells in a gelatinous core, surrounded by a ring made of the protein collagen. Metal implants have traditionally been used to replace damaged discs, but they often degrade over time. The new bio-discs may have longevity on their side.
When the new discs were implanted into the spine of rats, just under the tail, they fit within the space originally occupied by the degenerated disc. After six months, the scientists used MRI and CT scans to verify that the new bio-discs had become one with the spine, and functioned much as their predecessors.
The next step, Bonassar said, is to look at these bio-discs in certain dog breeds that are known to develop degenerative disc disease, such as dachshunds and beagles, he said.
Much of the pain associated with slipped or ruptured discs is due to improper mechanical function, he noted. "If we clear out the diseased disc and the offending material and implant the new bio-disc to restore mobility, this should also relieve pain," he said.
Study co-author Dr. R
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