Engineers at Cornell University and doctors at the Weill Cornell Medical College have developed oxymoronic ‘living’ artificial discs that outperform current implants used in discectomies, a surgery where damaged spinal discs are removed.
Current disc implants are made from a combination of metal and plastic, and often deteriorate over time. The new artificial discs are made out of two polymers — collagen, which wraps around the outside of the disc like a tire and a hydrogel called alginate in the middle that helps bear weight, just like real discs.
The clincher, however, is that the Cornell researchers planted cells in the new implants that germinate new tissue. Due to the growth of cells, the team found the new implants got better as they matured in the body.
“Our implants have maintained 70 to 80 percent of initial disc height. In fact, the mechanical properties get better with time,” says Lawrence Bonassar, Ph.D., in a Cornell news release. Bonassar is associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering at Cornell.
Roger Hartl, M.D., associate professor of neurosurgery at Weill Cornell Medical College and chief of spinal surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center says the news discs are superior to traditional discs due to their ability to integrate with the vertebrae.
“Bone or metal or plastic implants are complicated structures which come with a mechanical risk of the structures moving around, or debris from the metal or plastic particles accumulating in the body from wear and tear,” he says.
Furthermore, Hartl says discectomies would become less invasive, safer and see a reduction in long-term side effects.