Materials for the Spine: Anatomy, Problems, and Solutions
Frost, Brody A.
Foster, E. Johan
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Disc degeneration affects 12% to 35% of a given population, based on genetics, age, gender, and other environmental factors, and usually occurs in the lumbar spine due to heavier loads and more strenuous motions. Degeneration of the extracellular matrix (ECM) within reduces mechanical integrity, shock absorption, and swelling capabilities of the intervertebral disc. When severe enough, the disc can bulge and eventually herniate, leading to pressure build up on the spinal cord. This can cause immense lower back pain in individuals, leading to total medical costs exceeding $100 billion. Current treatment options include both invasive and noninvasive methods, with spinal fusion surgery and total disc replacement (TDR) being the most common invasive procedures. Although these treatments cause pain relief for the majority of patients, multiple challenges arise for each. Therefore, newer tissue engineering methods are being researched to solve the ever-growing problem. This review spans the anatomy of the spine, with an emphasis on the functions and biological aspects of the intervertebral discs, as well as the problems, associated solutions, and future research in the field.