Scientists at Sheffield Hallam University are developing a range of revolutionary hydrogels that may remedy degenerative disc disease – a condition which costs the NHS over £1billion a year.
The team of researchers at the University’s Biomolecular Sciences Research Centre (BMRC) and Materials Engineering Research Institute (MERI) has recently obtained £300k in funding from Arthritis UK, Medical Technologies IKC and the Medical Research Councilto begin the next stage of testing, and will seek to further develop the hydrogel based therapies with a view to eventually being able to trial and apply it in a clinical setting.
Disc degeneration is a common cause of lower back pain affecting 80 per cent of the world’s population at some point in their life time, even in those as young as 25. Between each vertebral body is a cushion called an intervertebral disc. Each disc provides flexibility and absorbs the stress and shock the body incurs during movement and prevents the vertebrae from grinding against one another.
The intervertebral discs are the largest structures in the body without a vascular supply. When the disc degenerates, it can alter the height and the mechanics of the spinal column which can then cause severe back pain.
Hydrogels are 3D crosslinked polymer networks containing large amounts of water. The researchers have developed a method of manufacturing hydrogels that can be injected into mammals using narrow gauge needles, minimising localised tissue damage, and free of any toxic effect.
When the hydrogel is injected into the intervertebral disc, it ‘sets’ in seconds and fills the gaps in the degenerated tissue. The hydrogel also has the potential to deliver the patient’s own stem cells and encourages them to regenerate the damaged disc.
The team are now evaluating whether stem cell loaded hydrogels can be used to repair goat and human spine segments using specialist laboratory simulations which can mimic the loads which are seen in a human intervertebral disc.
Sheffield Hallam University