Despite the prevalence of disc degeneration and its contributions to low back problems, many current treatments are palliative only and ultimately fail. To address this, nucleus pulposus replacements are under development. Previous work on an injectable hydrogel nucleus pulposus replacement composed of n-carboxyethyl chitosan, oxidized dextran, and teleostean has shown that it has properties similar to native nucleus pulposus, can restore compressive range of motion in ovine discs, is biocompatible, and promotes cell proliferation. The objective of this study was to determine if the hydrogel implant will be contained and if it will restore mechanics in human discs undergoing physiologic cyclic compressive loading. Fourteen human lumbar spine segments were tested using physiologic cyclic compressive loading while intact, following nucleotomy, and again following treatment of injecting either phosphate buffered saline (PBS) (sham, n = 7) or hydrogel (implant, n = 7). In each compressive test, mechanical parameters were measured immediately before and after 10,000 cycles of compressive loading and following a period of hydrated recovery. The hydrogel implant was not ejected from the disc during 10,000 cycles of physiological compression testing and appeared undamaged when discs were bisected following all mechanical tests. For sham samples, creep during cyclic loading increased (+15%) from creep during nucleotomy testing, while for implant samples creep strain decreased (−3%) toward normal. There was no difference in compressive modulus or compressive strains between implant and sham samples. These findings demonstrate that the implant interdigitates with the nucleus pulposus, preventing its expulsion during 10,000 cycles of compressive loading and preserves disc creep within human L5–S1 discs. This and previous studies provide a solid foundation for continuing to evaluate the efficacy of the hydrogel implant.

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