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New Biologic Repair Patch Uses Natural Body Motion to Fix Herniated Discs

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 22 Nov 2023

Spinal herniation, a condition where a spinal disc develops a rupture or tear leading to the squeezing out of its soft core, results in the disc losing its ability to cushion the spine effectively, causing pain. Currently, there are no definitive treatments to cure disc herniation. However, a new development known as the tension-activated repair patch (TARP) has shown promise in animal studies. This innovative technology functions similarly to a tire patch for a car, sealing disc ruptures in the spine and potentially halting further disease progression.

Developed by a team at Penn Medicine (Philadelphia, PA, USA), this biologic "patch" activates through the natural movement of the body, potentially offering a solution to repairing herniated spinal discs. TARPS, which was developed by the team after leveraging extensive research from various projects, gradually release an anti-inflammatory agent called anakinra from embedded microcapsules. This release helps the discs in a large animal model to restore their necessary tension, reversing the herniation and preventing further degeneration. The design of TARPs aims not only to seal the tear but also to rebuild the disc's tension and re-establish its cushioning function between the vertebrae, a challenge that has been difficult to overcome until now.

Image: The tension-activated repair patch plugs holes in discs in the spine like car tire patches (Photo courtesy of Penn Medicine)
Image: The tension-activated repair patch plugs holes in discs in the spine like car tire patches (Photo courtesy of Penn Medicine)

The innovation of TARP lies in its activation through the body’s natural movements, which trigger the release of the anti-inflammatory molecules from the microcapsules. Although theoretically effective even with minimal movement, the nature of disc tissue requires regular motion. The effectiveness of the patch is such that it creates a scenario where the disc tear never existed, potentially playing a crucial role in preventing the escalation of pain associated with disc degeneration. This potential treatment, applicable in both human and veterinary medicine, builds upon the foundational technologies previously used by the research team in creating bio-synthetic discs and other mechanically-activated drug delivery systems. While the research is in its early stages and has demonstrated initial proof of concept, advancing this treatment toward human clinical use will require extended trials in larger animal models, according to the research team.

“This is designed to be an early intervention that may change the course of disease progression,” said co-senior author Harvey Smith, MD. “Currently there’s no treatment to mitigate recurring herniations that actually heal the disc. So we’re looking at a disease that is very common in younger, working-age people that, downstream, leads to severe disc disease and the need for spinal fusion. The more we can prevent that, the better.”

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