Intervertebral Disc Tissue Engineering


The primary cause of lower back pain in the US is intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration, leading to an annual healthcare cost burden of $90 billion. Current treatment options either aim to relieve discogenic pain or require surgical interventions that can lead to further degeneration at adjacent levels. Both of these options fail to resolve the underlying causes of degeneration. To address these constraints, our lab investigates bioactive repair strategies which utilize a combination of cells and biomaterials to rescue or replace damaged disc tissue.

Current Research

  • Tissue Engineered Intervertebral Discs for Total Disc Replacement [Collaborations: Härtl Lab (Weill Cornell)]
  • Intradiscal Injections of Autologous Bone Marrow Aspirate as a Treatment for Disc Degeneration [Collaborations: Härtl Lab (Weill Cornell)]
  • Mitochondrial Transfer from Mesenchymal Stem Cells as a Mechanism for Rescuing Degenerative Disc Tissue [Collaborations: Härtl Lab (Weill Cornell), Delco Lab (Cornell Vet)]

We have developed repair and replacement strategies for IVDs in both large and small animal models. High-density photocrosslinkable collagen gels have been developed in this lab as a means to patch a herniated disc and maintain disc height, a metric of disc health. The tissue engineered IVD (TE-IVD) we are investigating is a composite disc comprised of an inner nucleus pulposus (NP) and outer annulus fibrosis (AF). These structures are engineered by encapsulating NP cells in an alginate gel AF cells in a collagen gel. These TE-IVDs have proven efficacy in the caudal spines of rats and cervical spines of pigs and beagles.

We are currently characterizing bone marrow aspirates collected from patients that receive intradiscal injections of autologous marrow as a means to understand the cellular mechanisms employed by mesenchymal stem cells to resolve degeneration.

Lab Members



Härtl Lab – Weill Cornell Brain and Spine Center, New York, NY

Delco Lab – Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine



Composite TE-IVD cultured in a biodegradable support cage for total disc replacement.