New Spongy Material Helps Repair the Spine
Scientists from the Mayo Clinic have developed biodegradable polymer grafts that, when surgically placed in damaged vertebrae, should grow to be just the right size and shape to fix the spinal column. Often, removing extensive spinal tumors requires taking out the entire bone segment and adjacent intervertebral discs from the affected area. In this case, something must fill the large void to maintain the integrity of the spine and protect the spinal cord. In the more invasive option, the surgeon opens the chest cavity from the front of the patient, which provides enough room to insert metal cages or bone grafts to replace the missing fragment. The other approach is less invasive, requiring just a small cut in the back or posterior, but only offers enough space for the surgeon to insert short expandable titanium rods, which are costly. To develop a less expensive graft compatible with the posterior spinal surgery option, Lichun Lu, Ph.D, and her postdoctoral fellow, Xifeng Liu, Ph.D., sought a material that could be dehydrated down to a size compatible with posterior spinal surgery, and then, once implanted, absorb fluids from the body, expanding to replace the missing vertebrae.