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A live implant could kill the pain associated with slipped discs, a study in rats suggests.
Between 1.5 and 4 million Americans are waiting for surgery to fix a herniated spinal disc, but the relief provided from a synthetic implant is the best it's ever going to be "the minute you put it into the patient", says Lawrence Bonassar of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Living tissue can grow and adapt, so may provide a better long-term solution, he says.
Bonassar's team used cells taken from sheep spines to build replicas of rat discs, and implanted them into the spines of rats.
The implanted discs stood up to pulling and compression like the original discs. Crucially, they also improved with age, growing new cells and binding to nearby vertebrae in the six months after surgery.
Although the study was in rats, "it shows us what is possible", says Abhay Pandit at the National University of Ireland in Galway. He adds that future studies will need to address the load borne by upright human spines.
Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1107094108