Biologics is the commercial application of biotechnology through the use of purified or synthetic proteins or other biological materials. The biotechnology industry offers the potential for truly amazing breakthroughs in nearly all aspects of medicine. Treatment of the spine is an area of considerable promise for biologics.

As medical researchers and scientists unravel the genetic code, it is now practical to replace defective genes or to grow new body materials or to use bacteria as “factories” for making new medications. This work has been in ongoing trials for years and promises startling advances in treating many different disease processes, including spinal disease.

Fusions are a very common spine operation that may involve a bone graft. Sometimes bone is harvested from one location in a patient and then grafted on the spine to place bone where there was none before.

Advances in determining the genes responsible for bone growth and reproducing the product of those genes in bacteria have resulted in devices that act like traditional bone grafts. These devices replace the need to harvest bone from the patient. This has reduced the pain and problems associated with bone graft harvesting and provided a resource for patients with conditions that inhibit bone healing.

Genetic research is also being applied to discover why some people get spine problems and some do not. Someday, we will be able to identify the genes that cause some spine diseases. Once discovered, it is possible that those genes may be inhibited from expressing themselves, effectively preventing disease before it manifests itself.

At a level above the cell, our understanding of the development and mechanics of the spine is ongoing. Exploration of how the spine behaves and why, helps to predict how objects, such as restraint systems and implantable devices, will work without having to use human subjects. Collaboration with engineers and computer modelers has made it possible to experiment on the spine without ever touching a living being. The potential is that safer devices and techniques will be available quicker and with less risk.

The National Spine Foundation is committed to expanding medicine’s knowledge base through research. Ongoing research into imaging of the spine, examining bone graft substitutes and evaluation of spinal devices and techniques are just a few of the areas that we believe show important promise for the future.
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