Growing a backbone – functional biomaterials and structures for intervertebral disc (IVD) repair and regeneration: challenges, innovations, and future directions
Back pain and associated maladies can account for an immense amount of healthcare cost and loss of productivity in the workplace. In particular, spine related injuries in the US affect upwards of 5.7 million people each year. The degenerative disc disease treatment almost always arises due to a clinical presentation of pain and/or discomfort. Preferred conservative treatment modalities include the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, chiropractic work, and dietary supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin. Artificial disc replacement, also known as total disc replacement, is a treatment alternative to spinal fusion. The goal of artificial disc prostheses is to replicate the normal biomechanics of the spine segment, thereby preventing further damage to neighboring sections. Artificial functional disc replacement through permanent metal and polymer-based components continues to evolve, but is far from recapitulating native disc structure and function, and suffers from the risk of unsuccessful tissue integration and device failure. Tissue engineering and regenerative medicine strategies combine novel material structures, bioactive factors and stem cells alone or in combination to repair and regenerate the IVD. These efforts are at very early stages and a more in-depth understanding of IVD metabolism and cellular environment will also lead to a clearer understanding of the native environment which the tissue engineering scaffold should mimic. The current review focusses on the strategies for a successful regenerative scaffold for IVD regeneration and the need for defining new materials, environments, and factors that are so finely tuned in the healthy human intervertebral disc in hopes of treating such a prevalent degenerative process.