Inject microgels instead of spinal surgery?

08 February 2007

Microgels could be used to repair damaged spinal discs, say Manchester based scientists.

The news is reported in the latest edition of the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Soft Matter.

Microgels are cross-linked polymer particles that are swollen with solvent, and Dr Brian Saunders and his team at Manchester University have developed a microgel that responds to changes in the pH (acidity/alkalinity) of its surroundings.

At low pH (acid), the material is a fluid, but at higher pH, the microgel particles act like sponges and absorb water, creating a stiff gel.

The team injected the material at low pH into a damaged bovine intervertebral disc, and increased the pH to biological levels by injecting alkaline solution. The disc returned to its normal height and regained its mechanical strength.

An intervertebral disc

The stiff gel can be seen in the left side of a dissected intervertebral disc

Dr Saunders said: "Chronic lower back pain due to spinal disc degeneration is a major health problem.

"The most common treatment is spinal fusion, a major surgical procedure which can result in a significant loss of mobility at the fused and adjacent discs. Our approach has the advantage of being minimally invasive, and being able to restore spinal mobility."

To develop the technology into a viable alternative to spinal fusion, Saunders and his team plan to investigate biodegradable microgels that release additives to stimulate the regeneration of spinal disc tissues.

with thanks to Susan Batten for the original article 


A study of pH-responsive microgel dispersions: from fluid-to-gel transitions to mechanical property restoration for load-bearing tissue  J M Saunders, T Tong, C L Le Maitre, T J Freemont and B R Saunders, Soft Matter, 2007 DOI: 10.1039/b613943d


Spinal injection to cut out surgery

Microgels could be used to repair damaged spinal discs, say UK scientists.

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