The Future Of Spinal Disc Replacement

Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: December 6, 2018

Spinal Disc Replacement

Spinal disc replacement surgery has made immense progress over the last decade, and now we’re manufacturing artificial discs that can essentially mimic the responsibilities of a healthy human disc. We’re leaps and bounds ahead of where we were just ten years ago, but that begs the questions, where will we be a decade from today? If a new treatment continues to show promise, a patient may hold the key to their own spinal disc replacement.

The newest avenue being pursued for spinal disc replacement involves stem cells. In a clinical trial involving goats, scientists were able to use stem cells from goats to grow spinal discs, which could then be harvested and used to replace a worn down disc in the same goat who donated the stem cells. Researchers say the new discs functioned well after studying them for 20 weeks post surgery.

“We have every reason to be optimistic that the success will continue, and if it works, we can change the way we think about treating some of these disc diseases,” said study co-author Dr. Harvey Smith, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery.

New Spinal Disc Replacement Option

Spinal discs are the soft tissue between vertebrae that act as a cushion to support stress, but just like your mattress, over time they will wear down and lose the ability to adequately support your weight. This can lead to mild discomfort or intense pain, but discs can also be reinforced or replaced via surgery.

Previous surgeries focused on fusing the nearby vertebrae to limit movement or replacing the damaged disc with an artificial option, but the lab-grown discs present a unique option. They would be accepted by the body because it is sourced from the patient, and they could be an even better fit than what technology can develop.

The patient-sourced stem cell discs still have plenty of hurdles to jump before potentially being available to a human patient, but for now, researchers are pleased with what they’ve seen in the goat study. They plan to continue to monitor how stem cell-sourced discs perform over a longer period of time.

“It will be exciting to see how it performed over longer periods, and especially exciting to start providing some hope for these people who are debilitated by the pain they live with every day,” said senior researcher Robert Mauck.

Mauck has previously worked on a similar study involving implanting discs in rat tails, which also showed promising results, and it’s part of the reason why he was interested in moving to a different test subject. Goats have cervical spinal discs that are about the same size as human discs, and degeneration patterns are similar. If the results continue down the path they are heading, there’s a real possibility a human trial is only a couple years away if granted FDA approval.

We’ll certainly keep tabs on this story in the coming weeks and months, and we’ll keep you updated on any new developments. For the time being, if you’re battling neck or back pain, reach out to Dr. Sinicropi’s office to see how to best treat your condition.

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