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Thursday, 13 April, 2000, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Ceramic implants ease back pain

The implants could replace bone grafts
A tough artificial material could reduce the need for agonising bone grafts during operations to correct slipped discs.

People whose vertebral discs are damaged, such as those who have not recovered from slipped discs, need to have the disc removed and a piece of bone put in its place, which will then grow together with the neighbouring bones and fuse the joint.

However, this bone is often taken from the rim of the pelvis.

This does not always work, and is extremely painful for the patient.

Surgeons at Charing Cross Hospital in London are trying out a new material which is strong enough to cope with the weight carried by the spine.

Professor Richard Coombs: 'I would have one'
It has a "bioactive core", which allows it to integrate and fuse the joint in the same way as natural bone.

The bone actually grows through the implant to link with the other side.

Doctors believe that the implants will last longer than traditional methods, reducing the need for extra operations.

They are hoping to start trials on humans soon.

Professor Richard Coombs, an orthopaedic surgeon from Charing Cross Hospital, said: "If I needed this kind of operation, this is the kind of implant I would hope to be used on myself."

"You would avoid this type of problem of removing bone from the pelvis.

"And the implants have immense strength. You could park a car on it and it would not crumble."

Vertebral discs sit in between the bones on the spine and cushion them when they press together.

A slipped disc happens when part of one of the cartilage cushion slips out of place and bulges out.

When this pushes against nerves, it can be extremely painful.

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