A study in the journal Soft Matter has found a way to permanently replace the workings of the invertebral disc in order to treat chronic lower back pain.

The University of Manchester cross-faculty team has been working with microgel particles, which are swellable nanoscopic polymer particles, for a number of years. Previously, they have demonstrated that an injectable fluid of these particles could transform into a gel that restored the mechanical properties of damaged model intervertebral discs.

Lead researcher Brian Saunders, MD, of the School of Materials, and his team have 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 have much better mechanical properties than the first generation and should now display the necessary long-term durability required for an implanted device.

In the study, researchers – who include PhD student Amir Milani and Ruixue Liu, MD – found a way to produce injectable gels for minimally-invasive repair of IVD degeneration.

“Our team has made a breakthrough through innovative materials design that brings the prospect of an injectable gel for treating degeneration of the intervertebral disc a step closer,” Saunders said.

Professor Tony Freemont, Head of Research in the School of Biomedicine, and co-author on the paper, added: “Degeneration of the intervertebral disc results in chronic back pain which costs the country billions of pounds per annum and causes untold misery for sufferers and their families.”

[Source: The University of Manchester]