Material properties in unconfined compression of human nucleus pulposus, injectable hyaluronic acid-based hydrogels and tissue engineering scaffolds


Surgical treatment for lower back pain related to degenerative disc disease commonly includes discectomy and spinal fusion. While surgical intervention may provide short-term pain relief, it results in altered biomechanics of the spine and may lead to further degenerative changes in adjacent segments. One non-fusion technique currently being investigated is nucleus pulposus (NP) support via either an injectable hydrogel or tissue engineered construct. A major challenge for either approach is to mimic the mechanical properties of native NP. Here we adopt an unconfined compression testing configuration to assess toe-region and linear-region modulus and Poisson’s ratio, key functional parameters for NP replacement. Human NP, experimental biocompatible hydrogel formulations composed of hyaluronic acid (HA), PEG-g-chitosan, and gelatin, and conventional alginate and agarose gels were investigated as injectable NP replacements or tissue engineering scaffolds. Testing consisted of a stress-relaxation experiment of 5% strain increments followed by 5-min relaxation periods to a total of 25% strain. Human NP had an average linear-region modulus of 5.39 ± 2.56 kPa and a Poisson’s ratio of 0.62 ± 0.15. The modulus and Poisson’s ratio are important parameters for evaluating the design of implant materials and scaffolds. The synthetic HA-based hydrogels approximated NP well and may serve as suitable NP implant materials.

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The authors thank the Neurosurgery Research and Education Foundation (NRM) and the National Institutes of Health AR 50052 (DME) for supporting this study. Partial support was also provided by DK068401 (WC). We thank the National Disease Research Interchange and the International Institute for the Advancement of Medicine for providing the human tissue. The authors would also like to acknowledge Nandan Nerurkar for his help with sample preparation

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Correspondence to Dawn M. Elliott.

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Cloyd, J.M., Malhotra, N.R., Weng, L. et al. Material properties in unconfined compression of human nucleus pulposus, injectable hyaluronic acid-based hydrogels and tissue engineering scaffolds. Eur Spine J 16, 1892–1898 (2007).

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  • Alginate
  • Agarose
  • Intervertebral disc
  • NP
  • Compression
  • Hydrogel