A new two-step medical technique can repair herniated discs like patching up flat tires. The technique involves filling up the ruptured disc with hyaluronic acid gel and then using a collagen gel to seal the hole in the disc.
The development of the technique was led by a team from Cornell University. Their study was published in the March 11, 2020 edition of the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Traditional Methods Not Always Effective
When a disc becomes herniated, the jelly-like substance inside it leaks out and causes inflammation. Usually, a surgeon will sew up the hole in the disc, leaving it deflated. The other alternative is to refill the disc with a replacement material. However, refilling a disc will not prevent it from leaking again. Each of these methods are not always effective on their own.
A New Two-Step Technique
This new technique combines the two methods. The hyaluronic acid gel is used to inflate the disc and the collagen is used to seal up the leak. The sealing is similar to patching up a leaking tire.
“This is really a new avenue and a whole new approach to treating people who have herniated discs,” said Lawrence Bonassar, the senior author of the study.
“We now have potentially a new option for them, other than walking around with a big hole in their intervertebral disc and hoping that it doesn’t re-herniate or continue to degenerate. And we can fully restore the mechanical competence of the disc,” he said.
Activated by Light
The collagen gel contains riboflavin, a photoactive vitamin B derivative. Once applied on the disc, by shining light on the gel, the riboflavin is activated. The resulting chemical reaction causes fibers in the collagen to bond together and the thick gel stiffens into a solid. Also, the collagen gel provides a kind of matrix for cells to adhere to as new tissue grows.
The technique also takes only ten minutes to perform. The researchers said the technique could also be used to address other types of disc degeneration, or be integrated into other spinal procedures and therapies.