Researchers grow new spine discs for bad backs

20 Jan 2009, 1112 hrs IST, IANS

WASHINGTON: Researchers are growing new spine discs for those who suffer from severe degenerative disc disease.

Neurosurgeons can now remove the affected intervertebral discs (IVDs) after which they fuse the vertebrate bones to stabilize the spine.

Scientists at Weill Cornell University have bioengineered an IVD in the lab for transplantation into rat spines.

To create new spine discs, Roger Härtl and Lawrence Bonassar are using cells from IVD tissue of human patients who have had their spinal discs removed.

Hartl is assistant professor of neurological surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Bonassar is an associate professor in the departments of biomedical engineering and mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University in New York.

Hartl harvests tissue from the removed discs and sends it to Bonassar, who isolates cells from them and grows them in an incubator that simulates the environment in the body.

Once developed, they are placed on a bioengineered scaffold, enabling the assembly of the cells and scaffold into an IVD-shaped implant.

The research team then surgically implants the discs inside a rat's spine in order to see how the tissue reacts to the mechanical and biological demands, said a Cornell release.

So far, results are promising. The researchers hope to soon test the bioengineered discs in human subjects in a clinical trial, so that someday people can receive spare parts for their ageing or injured backs.