Bioengineered spinal discs were successfully implanted and provided long-term function in the largest animal model ever evaluated for tissue-engineered disc replacement. A new Penn Medicine study published in Science Translational Medicine provides compelling translational evidence that the cells of patients suffering from neck and back pain could be used to build a new spinal disc in the lab to replace a deteriorated one. The study was conducted by a multidisciplinary team at the Perelman School of Medicine, School of Engineering and Applied Science, and School of Veterinary Medicine.

The soft tissues in the spinal column, the intervertebral discs, are essential for the motions of daily life, such as turning your head to tying your shoes. While spinal disc degeneration is often associated with that pain, the underlying causes of disc degeneration remain less understood. Today’s approaches, which include spinal fusion surgery and mechanical replacement devices, provide symptomatic relief, but they do not restore native disc structure, function, and range of motion, and they often have limited long-term efficacy.

Tissue engineering involves combining the patients’ or animals’ own stems cells with biomaterial scaffolds in the lab to generate a composite structure that is then implanted into the spine to act as a replacement disc. For the last 15 years, the Penn research team has been developing a tissue engineered replacement disc, moving from in vitro basic science endeavors to small animal models to larger animal models with an eye toward human trials.

“This is a major step: to grow such a large disc in the lab, to get it into the disc space, and then to have it to start integrating with the surrounding native tissue. That’s very promising,” says Robert L. Mauck, a professor of education and research in orthopaedic surgery at the Perelman School of Medicine, and a research health scientist at the Corporal Michael Crescenz VA Medical Center in Philadelphia, and co-senior author of the paper. “The current standard of care does not actually restore the disc, so our hope with this engineered device is to replace it in a biological, functional way and regain full range of motion.”

Read more at Penn Medicine News. https://www.pennmedicine.org/news/news-releases/2018/november/treating-spinal-pain-with-replacement-discs-made-of-engineered-living-tissue-moves-closer-to-reality_