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Bio-Engineered Spinal Discs Appear Successful in Rats
Date:8/2/2011

oger Hartl, an associate professor of neurosurgery at Weill Cornell Medical College and chief of spinal surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, said that treating degenerative disc disease is extremely difficult. "If we implant a metal disc, there are concerns about the longevity of the implant and the possibility of negatively affecting the levels above and below the new disc," he said.

However, "the bio-implant over time integrates itself with the normal anatomy without negatively affecting levels above and below it," he said. "This is the greatest advantage."

Even though the technology is more than five years away from human trials, this latest advance "really opens up avenues of more biological treatments using tissue engineering and biologic technology to treat underlying disease processes," Hartl said.

Still, outside experts cautioned that this concept is in its infancy and -- as usual in medical science -- it is a big leap to say that if it works in rats, it will work in humans.

"This is an intriguing idea, but it is a long way off from practical reality," said Dr. Douglas Orr, a staff physician in the Center for Spine Health in the Cleveland Clinic's Neurological Institute in Ohio. For example, while the tail of a rat does resemble the human spine, it doesn't bear weight in the same manner, which could be an important factor.

What's more, "only a small percentage of back pain is solely due to disc degeneration," Orr said. Physical therapy and conditioning programs that help the back muscles compensate for the degenerative disc and/or medications are often the first line of treatment for degenerative disc disease, he said.

More information

There's more on degenerative disc disease at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

SOURCES: Douglas Orr, M.D., st
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