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Gel could replace spinal surgery

26th March 2007

Major surgery for back pain could become a thing of the past with the formulation of a new gel.

The hi-tech gel contains tiny particles that swell and stiffen when injected into a damaged spine.  The action of swelling and stiffening means the gel is able to replace the discs that provide the cushioning of the spinal cord.  Tests on animals have proved very positive and researchers at the University of Manchester are now hopeful that their work could be used successfully on humans.

Degeneration of the spine causes great pain and disability to sufferers due to holes in the load-bearing tissue of the intervertebral discs.  The only treatment currently available to sufferers is spinal fusion surgery which is a major procedure and leads to a considerable loss in mobility.  The new gel particles work by acting like sponges between vertebrae.  The gel has a low pH which, when exposed to the naturally higher pH found inside a body, stiffens due to the absorption of water and can thus remain in the spine as a replacement disc.

The research has been welcomed by medics as ‘exciting’ but some have warned that much work needs to be done to develop a gel viable for use in humans.  Dr Alison McGregor, an expert in back pain at Imperial College London, expressed other concerns saying, "Managing the back pain of people with degenerate discs often goes beyond damage to the disc itself… I am not sure that restoring some of the properties to the disc will lead to normal motion and normal function."

 

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