Innovative design of bone quality-targeted intervertebral spacer: accelerated functional fusion guiding oriented collagen and apatite microstructure without autologous bone graft

The Spine Journal 23 (2023) 609−620

Although autologous bone grafting is widely considered as an ideal source for interbody fusion, it still carries a risk of nonunion. The influence of the intervertebral device should not be overlooked. Requirements for artificial spinal devices are to join the vertebrae together and recover the original function of the spine rapidly. Ordered mineralization of apatite crystals on collagen accelerates bone functionalization during the healing process. Particularly, the stable spinal function requires the ingrowth of an ordered collagen and apatite matrix which mimics the intact intervertebral microstructure. This collagen and apatite ordering is imperative for functional bone regeneration, which has not been achieved using classical autologous grafting.

PURPOSE: We developed an intervertebral body device to achieve high stability between the host bone and synthesized bone by controlling the ordered collagen and apatite microstructure.

STUDY DESIGN: This was an in vivo animal study.

METHODS: Intervertebral spacers with a through-pore grooved surface structure, referred to as a honeycomb tree structure, were produced using metal 3D printing. These spacers were implanted into normal sheep at the L2−L3 or L4−L5 disc levels. As a control group, grafting autologous bone was embedded. The mechanical integrity of the spacer/bone interface was evaluated through push-out tests.

RESULTS: The spacer with honeycomb tree structure induced anisotropic trabecular bone growth with textured collagen and apatite orientation in the through-pore and groove directions. The pushout load of the spacer was significantly higher than that of the conventional autologous graft spacer. Moreover, the load was significantly correlated with the anisotropic texture of the newly formed bone matrix.

CONCLUSIONS: The developed intervertebral spacer guided the regenerated bone matrix orientation of collagen and apatite, resulting in greater strength at the spacer/host bone interface than that obtained using a conventional gold-standard autologous bone graft.

CLINICAL SIGNIFICANCE: Our results provide a foundation for designing future spacers for interbody fusion in human.