Duke bioengineers discover method to regenerate back discs

Jul. 16, 2013 @ 02:54 PM

New biomaterials created within Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering will help thousands of Americans affected by degenerative disc disease and material loss between vertebrae, according to Duke scientists.

The new biomaterial is designed to deliver a booster shot of reparative cells in the jelly-like cushion, scientifically known as the nucleus pulposus, between spinal discs. The findings were recently published online in the journal Biomaterials.

“Our primary goal was to create a material that would be liquid at the start, gel after injection in the disc space and keep the cells in the location where they're needed,” said Lori Setton, a Duke biomedical engineering professor, in a statement.

Disc degeneration is common as people age, and the soft, compressible discs that work as the spine’s shock absorbers break down, according to the news release. Although the intervertebral disc generation can occur anywhere, it usually happens near the neck or lower back, causing intense pain.

Previous lab research showed that re-implanting nucleus pulposus cells or stem cells can delay disc degeneration. Several companies offer cell delivery strategies, but the methods are ineffective, according to the release.

“They allow the cells to quickly migrate out of and away from the injection site,” said Aubrey Francisco, a Duke graduate student, in a statement.