First Five Cases of Human-to-Human Disc TransplantationScientists are moving slowly and cautiously toward using human discs transplanted to other humans. The first report of five patients receiving donated human disc material has been published.
Spine surgeons from Hong Kong and Beijing have conducted a five-year follow-up study on these five patients. They all received cervical (neck) disc materials. The discs were donated by young, healthy adults who died in car accidents.
The transplant surgeon removed the diseased disc. A cube-like shape was made between the two vertebrae. The transplanted disc and the end-plates on either side were inserted into the opening. No other means were used to hold the discs in place. In other words, no metal plates, screws, or wire were used to fasten the transplanted disc in place.
The patients receiving the donor discs did not need drugs to prevent rejection. No immune reaction occurs because there is a natural lack of blood supply to the disc itself. This means rejection is not a problem. Immune suppressing medications are not required.
Patients were followed for five years. One patient had a natural fusion at the two-year check-up. One other patient had neck and arm pain from pressure on the spinal nerve root. But the donated disc did not prolapse or herniate.
At the end of five years, all five patients had some loss of disc height. This is a sign of mild disc degeneration. There were no symptoms or indications of painful degeneration. The next level above and below the transplanted disc was not degenerating either.
The authors of the study say the transplanted discs are easier to revise if needed compared to disc replacements or spinal fusion. Some surgeons still feel it is necessary to wait for further results before attempting similar procedures.
For now, the use of transplanted human disc material remains under study. A slow, cautious, and scientific approach is advised.
SPORT on Degenerative Spondylolisthesis. In The BACK Letter. August 2007. Vol. 22. No. 8. Pp. 85, 94-95.
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