Cure for back pain? Researchers develop injectable gel that can repair cracks and tears in spinal discs relieving pain
- Scientists at Clinical Radiology of Oklahoma said the treatment showed promise after it slashed lower back pain in 20 people aged 20 to 69
- But they said more research was needed before it could be rolled out further
- Participants suffered from degenerative disc disease, the leading cause of lower back pain
- Current gels must be implanted using surgery and can pop out of place
- But this gel only requires an injection to put it in place in the back and ease pain
An injectable gel that repairs cracked and torn spinal discs could help relieve lower back pain, researchers have discovered.
Scientists at the Clinical Radiology of Oklahoma said the treatment showed promise after it slashed pain in 20 people aged 20 to 69 who had degenerative disc disease, a condition where discs separating vertebrae become worn away.
But they added it was necessary to wait for results of a pilot study in the U.S. and Canada before the gel — dubbed Hydrafil — could be rolled out more widely.
About 65 million Americans suffer from back pain every year, estimates suggest, with degenerative disc disease the leading cause.
Current treatments focus on ‘conservative’ methods including rest, physical therapy and back braces. Current gel treatments to ease the condition must be inserted using surgery and can pop out of place, unlike the new treatment that only needs an injection.
The gel could help ease pain in the lower back by hardening in the tears and cracks that form in discs over time (stock image)
What is degenerative disc disease?
Degenerative disc disease is a type of arthritis and the most common cause of lower back pain.
It happens when discs that separate vertebrae in the spin become worn and damaged.
This leads to vertebrae moving closer together, which they react to by making spurs — or bony growths. When these start to pinch nerves in the back, this triggers pain.
Treatment options for people suffering from the condition include conservative methods such as rest and physical therapy. Surgery to put in implants can also be offered.
About 65million Americans suffer from back pain every year.
Source: Johns Hopkins
In the study — revealed this week at Society of Interventional Radiology’s Annual Scientific Meeting — researchers said they recruited 20 people from Colombia to the study with chronic lower back pain.
Each had previously tried to relieve their pain using ‘conservative measures’, but experienced only mild respite.
The specialist gel was heated to 149F (65C) before being injected directly into their discs — which separate bony vertebrae — in the lower back.
It then cooled to body temperature in the patient and solidified into an implant to support discs in the back.
Scientists said the gel — made of plastics — cools quickly following injection and that there no damage to surrounding tissue had been observed or recorded to date.
Six months later all reported a drop in back pain on a scale up to 10 — being the highest — from seven before the treatment to just two now.
They also reported an improvement in their ability to do physical activities.
Hydrafil will now be fast-tracked to a second study, the scientists said, to confirm whether it is a ‘promising treatment’ for the condition.
Dr Douglas Beall, the radiologist who led the study, said: ‘If these findings are confirmed in further research, this procedure may be a very promising treatment for chronic low back pain in those who’ve found insufficient relief from conservative care.
‘The gel is easy to administer, requires no open surgery and is an easy procedure for the patient.’
He added: ‘We really have no good treatments for degenerative disc disease, aside from conservative care.
‘Surgery is statistically no more effective than conservative care and can potentially make things worse. And existing hydrogels are inserted through an incision as a soft solid, which can pop out of place if you’re not highly skilled in placing it.’
Hydrafil received a ‘breakthrough device’ designation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2020 allowing it to move into trials.