As we continue to age and add wear and tear to the body, our spines remain on the front lines of the beating. The spine is made up of 4 distinct sections: Cervical, Thoracic, Lumbar, and Sacral. There are 24 separate vertebrae in the Cervical, Thoracic and Lumbar regions, while the sacrum is a single bone composed of 5 fused vertebrae. Between each of the vertebral bones is a cushion called an intervertebral disc. A vertebral disc is made of a jelly-like center, which acts as a shock-absorbing cushion between each bone, and a fibrous outer ring, which adds strength to the disc. Over time, the jelly core can become brittle and dense, while the outer ring can become weak. This disc shrinkage and weakening narrows the cushion layer between vertebrae and is called Degenerative Disc Disease. This can increase the frequency of other spinal disorders such as arthritis, herniated discs, and pinched nerves. I know, isn’t getting old fun? But hope is on the horizon!
Researchers out of Duke Pratt School of Engineering studied the use of jelly-like Laminin injections to keep intervertebral discs perky. Laminin is a specific type of protein that is prevalent throughout the entire body, and works as a “glue” for structural support in many different types of tissue. It has been theorized that decreased Laminin concentrations in vertebral discs is a main reason for disc shrinkage and degeneration as we age. Scientists at Duke created a Laminin gel, that when injected into the spinal discs, completely hardened within 20 minutes and added structural integrity to the degenerated discs. Previous studies with Laminin injections, showed similar improvements, but revealed no long-term effects, because the Laminin escaped the boundaries of the disc and quickly dissipated. However, given the new gel form of Laminin, Duke researchers were able to illustrate that the Laminin remained inside the disc 14 days after the procedure, speculating that the gel form may contribute to better results in the long term.
This is huge news for aging patients suffering from Degenerative Disc Disease. The procedure is significantly less invasive than other surgical procedures, and has the potential to reverse the signs of aging in bruised and battered intervertebral discs. Now, research is far from over in regards to making this procedure a mainstay in pain management, but the regenerative potential is exciting and certainly something to perk up about.
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