Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have developed bio-engineered replacement spinal discs. Intervertebral discs are located between the bones of the spine to absorb shock, prevent the bones from painfully rubbing together and protect the nerves of the spinal cord. Degraded discs cause intense chronic pain, which is often debilitating and diminishes a person’s quality of life. The current standard of care involves replacing a damaged disc with a synthetic replacement, which does alleviate some pain, but does not compare to real cartilage. In an animal model, autologous (the patient’s own) mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) were seeded into a biological scaffold where they differentiated into cartilage tissue. When the disc was fully-formed, it was surgically inserted back into the spine, and in a 20 week follow-up the disc maintained its structure and performed as normal.
Researchers at Rutgers University have created a bio-degradable scaffold that could overcome the biggest hurdle in stem cell treatments, which is cell survival and delivery. In order for a treatment to be effective, the stem cells must reach the designated site and remain there while they work. "Our enhanced stem cell transplantation approach is an innovative potential solution," comments Professor Ki Bum Lee, senior author of the study.