Keith Luk, University of Hong Kong, and Dike Ruan, Naval General Hospital, Beijing, China, have used discs from recently deceased people to replace damaged ones in the neck areas of five patients. After five years these patients had improvement in their symptoms such as muscle weakness, stiffness of gait, and overall numbness.
Intervertebral discs, or spinal discs, connect neighboring vertebrae in the spine. Each disc forms a joint made from cartilage to allow modest movement of the vertebrae. It acts like a ligament to hold the vertebrae together. Each disc has a jelly-like center that performs similar to a shock absorber. However, over time, the discs can dehydrate and become less compressible, causing severe pain.
In addition, the researchers were pleased to find that none of the patients had an adverse reaction to the introduction of the foreign tissue, even though immunosuppressive drugs were not used.
The article describing Luk and Ruan’s results appear in The Lancet (volume 369, page 993).