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US Scientists Develop Biomaterial That Could Help Spinal Disc Regeneration

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Disc degeneration is a problem commonly associated with aging. The gradual breakdown of the spinal discs serving as shock absorbers usually results in strong neck and lower back pain but it can also lead to disc herniation, osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis. A new biomaterial developed by scientists from Duke University´s Pratt School of Engineering raises hopes for cell therapies that could prevent the loss of intervertebral material and stop or reverse the consequences of degenerative disc disease.

In order for cell therapies to work, scientists must keep the cells alive, create the appropriate substitution material and inject it into the right place. Previous research has established that having nucleus pulposus or stem cells re-implanted can slow down disc degeneration. Such procedures are already available from a number of companies but the methods used are not very effective. As research team member Aubrey Francisco explained, current cellular delivery strategies fail to keep the cells at the injected site for more than three or four days after the procedure.

The Duke team had as its primary goal the creation of a liquid material that would turn into gel after being injected into the spine. Secondly, the material had to provide an environment promoting the persistence and biosynthesis of the injected cells.

The gel mix created by the researchers was injected into rats´ tails. According to the study report published in the Biomaterials journal, it took five minutes for the solution to start solidifying and 20 minutes to set completely. More than two weeks after the procedure, the scientists found that far more cells remained at the intervertebral disc site when the biomaterial carrier was used for their delivery compared to cells injected in a liquid suspension.