Dynamic Loading of the Intervertebral Disc – Ex vivo culturing and what can we learn?
For decades, the study of the intervertebral disc and the process that leads to degeneration has kept researchers very busy. This quest to fully understand the mechanisms that lead to water loss and proteoglycan content of the nucleus pulposus seems to be in the forebrain of spine investigators in hopes that it will provide clues on how to reverse the degenerative process…or at least prevent it.
Degenerative discs are arguably the most common cause of low back pain 1 with the cost affecting millions of people worldwide 2. The intervertebral disc plays a crucial role in the maintenence of bony vertebral spacing in the spine to allow movement. And when it starts to fail, it compromises the biomechanics. So, the search for regenerative strategies continues and hence the reason for this write-up.
One of the foregoing approaches to studying ways to rebuild human discs is to culture them outside of the body which is called ex vivo (outside life) research. In a recent publication in European Cells and Materials 3 these researchers were able to maintain cell life by loading the disc in a dynamic way. The branch of science that looks at how forces can influence real living tissues is called mechanobiology.
By stimulating the discs with motion, the cells remained alive for 14 days without any blood supply. Interestingly, the cells died when too much force was used whereas using medium cyclic forces maintained their viability. You can read the full text here.
This kind of research is VERY important in the greater understanding of how to keep the most important structure in the spine happy and viable. It also leads the way in revealing how much force is optimal (and the timing of it) for a healthy spine.
- Adams MA, Lama P, Zehra U, Dolan P (2015) Why do some intervertebral discs degenerate, when others (in the same spine) do not? Clin Anat 28: 195-204. ↩
- Katz JN (2006) Lumbar disc disorders and low-back pain: Socioeconomic factors and consequences. J Bone Joint Surg Am 88 Suppl 2: 21-24. ↩
- European Cells and Materials Vol. 31 2016 (pages 26-39). ↩