30% of European workers experience back pain, and it is the most frequently reported work-related disorder. The proposed work seeks to provide a cure for lower back pain by developing porous scaffolds and technology which will repair a damaged intervertebral disc (IVD) by enabling its regeneration to a natural healthy state or better. Injectable acellular and cell-loaded bioactive polymer-based scaffolds will be developed. These will be designed to be implanted into the patient by minimally invasive surgery. A biomimetic approach will confer the appropriate mechanical and biological properties and enable the inclusion of the requisite cell signalling factors to produce a bio-hybrid structure which closely resembles the human tissue in all its essential attributes. Particular attention will be paid to angiogenesis. In IVD tissue, vascularization must be carefully controlled, due to the unique anatomy and physiology of the intervertebral disc. There must be negligible vascularization in the annulus and nucleus regions and moderate vascularization at the vertebral body level. Work will therefore be performed on materials functionalization, and on growth factor incorporation and delivery, to enable this region-specific control of vascularization at different levels. Natural IVD tissue contains a relatively low number of cells, which are chondrocyte-like in character. Consequently, it will be necessary to devote some research to identifying and evaluating suitable and more readily available alternative cells for incorporation in the bio-hybrid substitutes produced . Modelling studies will identify the physical and mechanical properties of the natural IVD and the substitute materials, and provide an understanding of the physical aspects of the regeneration process. In vivo study on animal model will be performed the bio-fuctionality of both sustitutes. Surgical methodology and protocol will be developed.
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