Biomedical disc could improve treatment of chronic back pain

1 min read

Researchers in the US have created a new biomedical device to treat chronic back pain.

According to a statement, an artificial spinal disc that duplicates the natural motion of the spine has been licensed from Brigham Young University (BYU) to a Utah-based company called Crocker Spinal Technologies.

The device is designed to slide in between the vertebrae of the human spine where there are 23 cartilage-filled discs that hold the vertebrae together and allow for spine movement.

While the discs are critical for movement, they can become the source of back pain when they degenerate or become herniated — a major health problem that is said to affect 85 per cent of Americans and costs the US economy $100bn (£64bn) every year.

‘Low back pain has been described as the most severe pain you can experience that won’t kill you,’ said Anton Bowden, a BYU biomechanics and spine expert. ‘This device has the potential to alleviate that pain and restore the natural motion of the spine — something current procedures can’t replicate.’

The solution devised by the BYU team consists of a jointless, compliant mechanism that facilitates natural spine movement and is aimed at restoring the function of a healthy spinal disc.

‘To mimic the response of the spine is very difficult because of the constrained space and the sophistication of the spine and its parts, said Larry Howell, an expert in compliant mechanism research. ‘A compliant mechanism is more human-like, more natural, and the one we’ve created behaves like a healthy disc.’

BYU student engineers built prototypes, machine-tested the disc and then tested the device in cadaveric spines. The test results show that the artificial replacement disc behaves similarly to a healthy human disc.

Currently, the most common surgical treatment for chronic low back pain is spinal fusion surgery, which is said to have patient satisfaction of less than 50 per cent. Fusion replaces the degenerative disc with bone in order to fuse the adjacent segments to prevent motion-generated pain.

‘Disc replacement is an emerging alternative to fusion that has the potential to make a significant difference in the lives of millions,’ said David Hawkes, president of Crocker Spinal Technologies.

The BYU researchers report on the mechanism’s ability to facilitate natural spine movement in a study published in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Spine Surgery.