Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have developed a new biodegradable polymer graft material that when surgically implanted in damaged vertebrae, will grow and adapt to exactly fit the needed space. The new material is described as a potential advance in treatment options for patients with metastatic spinal tumors. Typically, removing these tumors entails the removal of bone segments and adjacent intervertebral discs leaving a space that must be filled to maintain spinal integrity. This is accomplished either by an invasive surgical procedure entering through the chest cavity, or via a posterior incision and insertion of titanium rods. The findings were presented earlier this week at the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society.
The new approach, developed by Lichun Lu, PhD, and Xifeng Liu, PhD, utilizes the less invasive posterior incision approach, but instead of costly titanium rods, employs a dehydrated polymer graft material that absorbs bodily fluids after implantation, expanding to fill the spinal void. The researchers were able to control the rate of expansion through alterations in the chemistry of the material. Dr Liu commented “By modulating the molecular weight and charge of the polymer, we are able to tune the material’s properties.” Dr. Lu added that the team’s next steps in development of the technology would be to simulate an inpatient procedure in cadavers with the goal of initiating clinical trials within the next few years. A news story and video segment about the new technology may be found here.