Research by the team led by Joana Caldeira (above) promises to revolutionise the way patients are treated for chronic low back pain. Photo: i3s

Porto researchers create injectable fetal biomaterial to treat low back pain

Promises to regenerate intervertebral discs

Researchers at the Institute for Health Research and Innovation (i3S) of the University of Porto have developed an injectable fetal biomaterial to regenerate the intervertebral disc and treat low back pain, and have already submitted a patent application for the product.

In a statement released today, the institute of the University of Porto explains that the ‘startup’ Fetaldisc team has submitted a patent application for the “first injectable fetal biomaterial to regenerate the intervertebral disc”.

The degeneration of the intervertebral disc causes low back pain, the leading cause of disability in Portugal that occurs with ageing.

The treatment options include physiotherapy, medication or fairly invasive surgery, but in most cases there are no long-term solutions.

During the research, the team used waste from the livestock industry, which is normally incinerated, and identified the existence of pro-regenerative components in fetal intervertebral discs.

“After processing in the laboratory, these tissues have a greater regenerative potential, that is, we verified a reappearance of proteins typical of a healthy environment in disc cells cultivated in fetal bovine biomaterials,” says investigator and Fetaldisc start-up leader Joana Caldeira.

According to Caldeira, the developed biomaterial also has the “ability to inhibit the formation of new blood vessels“, a process that is related to the intensity of pain, mobility and quality of life of patients.

The technology used “is based on the processing of foetal tissue in order to eliminate the existing cells, keeping most of the remaining biochemical and structural components characteristic of the embryonic development phases”.

In a subsequent phase, the researchers dehydrated the material at low temperatures “to obtain a high shelf life of the material in question” and “save the storage process”, so that it could be later injected “in the form of suspension particles”.

With an injectable material “the need for invasive surgery for patients with low back pain is eliminated and intervention, recovery and hospitalisation times are reduced“.

“This biomaterial also has the advantage of being produced in a simple, safe, affordable and scalable way”, says the researcher.

Joana Caldeira also points out that the earlier the intervention is performed, the greater its potential should be, and it may “provide a preventive effect”.

“The team also foresees that this biomaterial may have a wider application in cartilage degenerative diseases that affect other joints, namely the knee, hip and shoulder,” adds the institute of the University of Porto.

Under the ‘Women TechEU’ programme of the European Commission, the startup received funding of €75,000 , which will allow validating the biomaterial in pre-clinical tests and consolidating the business model.

The European programme aims to promote female entrepreneurship in the area of technology. This year, the initiative financed 134 technology-based companies, seven of which in Portugal.