IVD and articular cartilage repair and regeneration

Exploring the causes and biological treatments for intervertebral disc damage


Sibylle Grad

Dr Sibylle Grad

Focus Area Leader:
Disc and Cartilage Biology

We investigate potential mechanisms leading to intervertebral disc (IVD) damage and evaluate novel biological treatment methods for IVD repair and regeneration. Acute and chronic damage to the IVD are major causes of low back pain. However, the factors that contribute to the loss of function of the IVD and the underlying pathophysiology are still poorly understood. In addition, present surgical approaches do not address the underlying pathology and are often unsatisfactory.

We have established a whole IVD organ culture system with the ability to maintain entire discs with the endplates for several weeks under controlled nutrient and mechanical loading conditions. Within this bioreactor, the beneficial or detrimental effects of nutrition, mechanical forces, and/or biochemical factors on disc cell viability and metabolic activity can be investigated.

We have developed various defect and degeneration models, allowing us to design and evaluate appropriate biological treatment strategies. These include implantation of cells, delivery of anabolic, anti-catabolic or anti-inflammatory molecules, biomaterials or a combination thereof. Data from ex vivo models are also correlated to in vivo observations to identify molecular markers of IVD dysfunction. The goal is to develop functional therapies, depending on the type of IVD damage, which will maintain or restore the mechanical properties of the disc, while cellular components will enhance the endogenous regenerative process.

To study the potential of new therapies for articular cartilage repair and regeneration, a bioreactor system applying multiaxial load to tissue-engineered constructs or osteo-chondral explants has been established. The bioreactor mimics the load and motion characteristics of an articulating joint. Chondral and osteochondral defect and disease models enable us to test tailored treatments under physiologically relevant mechanically loaded ex vivo conditions. Cell- and material-based therapies as well as chondrogenic or anti-inflammatory factors are under investigation for cartilage repair and regeneration.

Other focus areas

Meet the team

See more about the team on the Musculoskeletal Regeneration group page

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