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Fixing chronic back pain with just one injection

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David Gregory | 16:37 UK time, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Injection into segment of cow spineIt is such a simple sounding idea but one that could have real benefits. Researchers at Aston University have created an injection to relieve chronic back pain.

It's award winning.

Computer simulation of spine showing discIt's a new way to effectively replace the degraded discs inside the spine that are the source of the pain.

At the moment patients with this problem are offered fairly invasive surgery to try and correct it. That could mean implanting metal rods into the spine or even fusing the vertebrae.

But this new approach uses some very clever chemistry instead. Two liquids are simultaneously injected into the space where the degraded disc sits. At this point the liquids are thin enough to travel down a normal sized hypodermic needle. But once inside the spine the liquids mix and form a thick gel.

This gel exactly mimics the behaviour of the degraded discs. It effectively "re-inflates" the spine of the patient relieving the back pain. It can even absorb water to copy the way discs expand at night after a hard day of supporting our weight.

So the inevitable question I get asked at this point is when might it become available? Well the researchers at Aston are talking to several large American companies. The materials used are well understood so it's possible a commercial product might be available in three to five years.

Interestingly it may well be used in animals first. The route to approval for veterinary medicines is shorter than for human medication and using this treatment in animals would also provide valuable data for the scientists.

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