An interdisciplinary team including researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine, Penn Vet, and the University’s department of bioengineering successfully implanted engineered spinal discs in goats—the largest animal yet to receive such a treatment. As reported in Science Translational Medicine in November, the team extended its work on rats to an animal model whose size and semi-upright posture have far more in common with humans—for whom disc degeneration is a major cause of pain and disability.
MRI results and histological analysis revealed that the engineered discs—biomaterial scaffolds seeded with stem cells—had compressive properties matching or exceeding native goat cervical discs, and integrated well with surrounding tissue. Other evidence suggested that the engineered discs’ composition and mechanical properties grew more robust over time.
“This is a major step: to grow such a large disc in the lab, to get it into the disc space, and then to have it start integrating with the surrounding native tissue,” said Robert L. Mauck, a professor for Education and Research in Orthopaedic Surgery at the Perelman School of Medicine and co-senior author of the paper. “The current standard of care does not actually restore the disc, so our hope with this engineered device is to replace it in a biological, functional way and regain full range of motion.”