Transplanted vertebrae? Where are you going to find donors?
Victims of chronic back pain were offered fresh hope with news of successful ‘spinal transplant’ surgery.
Spinal discs from accident victims were transplanted into patients with disc degeneration in the cervical spine, the area nearest the neck.
All reported improvements in their mobility and a reduction in symptoms such as weakness of the legs and bladder.
A report in The Lancet says the pioneering treatment, carried out in China, offers hope for thousands of sufferers of severe disc problems, particularly young people.
They often cannot be helped by existing treatments such as spinal fusion – which surgically joins bones in the spine, making them rigid – or artificial material to replace the defective discs.
Although disc transplants have been carried out in primates, it is the first time doctors have reported such surgery in humans.
The disc transplants were carried out by doctors at the Navy General Hospital, Beijing, and the University of Hong Kong.
They used 13 discs taken from women between 20 and 30. The discs were frozen and thawed out prior to transplant into a woman and four men aged 41 to 56.
Within three months the donor discs had successfully bedded in with existing spinal disc tissue.
Now, five years later, all the patients still show improvement and none has rejected the donor material. Surgeon
Dike Ruan said there were some signs of mild disc degeneration but the spinal area involved remained mobile.
He said: “With further refinements, such transplants could be an effective treatment for degenerative disc disease.”
But Dr Ruan admitted it would be a “challenge” to extend the technique-to the lower spine – where the majority of disc problems occur – because of anatomical problems and the immense loading pressures on this area.
Since the first patients were given transplants, the team has treated another group using modified techniques.