The spinal surgeons of the world are soon to welcome an new absolutely amazing tool into their armoury. They are doing this with a spongy polymer that fills in the spaces around damaged (or even removed) vertebrae to help encourage regrowth.
This discovery of the material was found while investigating metastic spinal tumors. The Researchers from the Mayo Clinic have invented a strange, dehydrated sponge that could dramatically help improve the patients recovery.
Modern techniques to help treat spinal tumors involve the removal of small chunks of spinal bone and often the adjacent intervertebral discs, too. Filling this space is a tricky task both being physically and economically.
From the Front to Rear
Traditionally, the surgeons would need to go in through the chest cavity, building a metal cage or bone graft in place to allow the regrowth to happen. There is a better option for the surgery. It is to have an incision from behind, but that will just leave surgeons only enough room to insert the titanium implants where they need to go. These are very expensive surgeries. Titanium is pretty damn expensive.
Looking at this pretty big problem, the PhD Student Lichun Lu and a team of researchers looked at a way of installing a small device that could actually grow with the human body. This would eventually start as a dehydrated spongy structure built to absorb nutrients in the body, growing to fill the space where bone has been removed.
This is acting as a bone graft, it’s essentially a biodegradable (also is dissolvable) structure or scaffold, which when in place will allow bone to grow in and around it after the surgery.
Time is Against Us
The researchers also have created a hollow hydrophilic cage that could then be filled with stabilizing materials, as well as even therapeutics.
Lichun Lu said:
When we designed this expandable tube, we wanted to be able to control the size of the graft so it would fit into the exact space left behind after removing the tumor.
An added complication with this cage was that the researchers needed to manage the speed with which the cage expands. If it was too quick it would leave surgeons very little time to put it in place during the surgery.
He also said:
By modulating the molecular weight and charge of the polymer, we are able to tune the material’s properties.
The clinical trials are planned in the next few years.