Scientists develop injectable biomaterial for back pain

Manchester University scientists have developed an injectable biomaterial implant that could be used to treat chronic back pain.

Chronic lower back pain is frequently caused by degeneration of the intervertebral disc and researchers have worked for many years to find a way of repairing wear and tear on the lower back.

According to the Manchester University cross-faculty team, it has now discovered how to permanently replace the workings of the invertebral disc.

The team has been working with microgel particles, which are swellable nanoscopic polymer particles, for a number of years.

Previously, it has demonstrated that an injectable fluid of these particles could transform into a gel that restored the mechanical properties of damaged model intervertebral discs.

The lead researcher, Dr Brian Saunders of the School of Materials, and his team have now succeeded in linking the microgel particles together to form injectable durable, elastic gels capable of sustaining large permanent changes in shape without breaking.

These improved injectable gels are said to have much better mechanical properties than the first generation and should now display the necessary long-term durability required for an implanted device.

In this study, the researchers — who include PhD student Amir Milani and Dr Ruixue Liu — have achieved an important milestone for producing injectable gels for minimally invasive repair of IVD degeneration.

Dr Saunders said: ‘Our team has made a breakthrough [with] innovative materials design that brings the prospect of an injectable gel for treating degeneration of the intervertebral disc a step closer.’

This work has been funded by the EPSRC and was recently awarded Proof-of-Principle funding by the University of Manchester Intellectual Property (UMIP).

Results from the research are published in the journal Soft Matter.