Apr 04 2018 Posted: 00:00 IST

Professor Abhay Pandit and his research team at CÚRAM, the SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices based at NUI Galway, has just published their research into a potential new treatment for lower back pain in the prestigious journal Science Advances. A biomaterial-based therapy developed by the researchers can be adapted to an injectable system which is far preferable to surgical intervention.

Lower back pain is the second leading cause of disability worldwide and a common reason for lost work days. Over 48% of Europeans and 80% of US citizens experience lower back pain due to degenerative intervertebral discs (IVDs) at some point in their lives, with associated healthcare expenditure estimated at over $100 billion dollars annually in US and €5.34 billion in Ireland alone. The prevalence of back pain is set to increase substantially in the coming years due to our ageing population.

Degeneration of the intervertebral disc results in the compression of the spinal nerves and adjacent vertebrae. Recently, as an alternative to the current conservative treatment or surgical interventions for lower back pain, which are non-regenerative in nature, researchers have started to investigate whether regeneration of the inflamed disc is possible.

In the clinic, a substance called hyaluronan (also known as hyaluronic acid) has been shown to facilitate long-term functional improvements by reducing inflammation and pain in a number of clinical conditions, including osteoarthritis surgeries. Hyaluronan is a structural component of tissues in the body, providing strength, lubrication and hydration within the cell’s environment. It also regulates cell movement and behaviour making it an important, active molecule for cell communication.

The multidisciplinary research team working on this project included Professor Abhay Pandit, Professor Peter Dockery, Professor David Finn and Dr Michelle Kilcoyne, with researchers Dr Isma Liza Mohd Isa and Dr Sunny Abbah, based at NUI Galway, as well as Dr Daisuke Sakai from the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Tokai University School of Medicine in Kanagawa, Japan.

Lead author of the study, Prof. Abhay Pandit from CÚRAM at NUI Galway, said: “The mechanisms by which hyaluronan targets inflammatory pain in disc degeneration had never been assessed. Our research focused on assessing whether a hyaluronan hydrogel has the ability to reduce inflammatory pain and promote disc repair. The results now suggest that it does indeed have a potential therapeutic application for the treatment of back pain associated with disc degeneration.”

Implantation of the hyaluronan hydrogel alleviates pain by favourably modulating cellular processes, suggesting promise as a potential therapy in the treatment of back pain.

Professor Abhay Pandit, Scientific Director of CÚRAM at NUI Galway, said: “The hyaluronan formulation we have developed can be adapted to an injectable system which is far preferable to surgical intervention in these cases. We are delighted to see this research being acknowledged in a top journal like Science Advances. Our aim at CÚRAM is to radically improve quality of life for patients suffering from chronic illness and this research takes us a step forward toward to doing just that for sufferers of disc degeneration and lower back pain.”

Interest in this technology has already been expressed by CÚRAM’s industry partners and has resulted in further collaborative work in this area.

To read the full study in Science Advances, visit: http://advances.sciencemag.org/

Science Advances is a prestigious journal from American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) that publishes innovative original research across all disciplines of science freely to a global audience.


For more information about the research contact Claire Riordan, Science Engagement Associate at CÚRAM, NUI Galway at 091 494414 or claire.riordan@nuigalway.ie

For Press contact Gwen O’Sullivan, Press and Information Executive, NUI Galway at gwen.osullivan@nuigalway.ie or 091 495695.

Image: Anatomical representation of the spine where intervertebral discs are located between the vertebral bones.

Notes to Editors


CÚRAM, the SFI Centre for Research in Medical Devices is part of the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre network. It aims to radically improve the quality of life for patients living with chronic illnesses, by developing the next generation of smart, implantable medical devices. CÚRAM’s academic partners include the National University of Ireland Galway, Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, University College Cork, University Limerick and Clinical Research Development Ireland. Clinical targets include cardiovascular illnesses, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, musculoskeletal and respiratory illnesses as well as soft tissue and wound healing. CÚRAM brings together clinical, industry and research teams with expertise in biomaterials, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, glycoscience and device design. Read more at www.curamdevices.ie or follow on Twitter @curamdevices.

About NUI Galway

The University was established in the heart of Galway City, on the west coast of Ireland, in 1845. Since then it has advanced knowledge teaching and learning, through research and innovation, and community engagement.

Over 18,000 students study at NUI Galway, where 2,600 staff provide the very best in research-led education.

NUI Galway’s teaching and research is recognised through its consistent rise in international rankings. The University is placed in the Top 250 of both the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2016/2017 and the QS World University Rankings 2016/17.

With an extensive network of industry, community and academic collaborators around the world, NUI Galway researchers are tackling some of the most pressing issues of our times. Internationally renowned research centres based here include CÚRAM Centre for Research in Medical Devices, Insight Centre for Data Analytics, Moore Institute, Institute for Life course and Society and The Ryan Institute for Environmental, Marine and Energy.

NUI Galway has been listed as one of the most beautiful universities in Europe according to Business Insider. For more information visit www.nuigalway.ie or view all NUI Galway news here.

*The University's official title is NUI Galway.


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