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Written By THT Editorial Team

Dr Aayush Shrestha

Reviewed by Dr. Aayush Shrestha, Orthopaedic & Spine Surgeon, MS Ortho, FSS, 

The human spine, an architectural wonder of biology, is prone to a variety of injuries. Disc herniation is notably one of the most incapacitating conditions [1]. This condition, often compared to a ‘flat tire’ in the spine, happens when the soft, cushion-like discs between the vertebrae burst, causing the inner gel to bulge out and press against the nerves. This can result in intense pain, numbness, and even disability.

Traditional treatments have been palliative at best, focusing on alleviating pain rather than repairing the underlying damage. However, a ground-breaking study published in Science Translational Medicine heralds a new era in spinal repair with the development of the tension-activated repair patch (TARP) [1].

The TARP represents a significant advancement in the treatment of disc herniation [2]. Developed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the CMC VA Medical Center, this biologic patch is designed to mimic the natural healing process of the body. The patch, which is inserted directly onto the herniated disc, is composed of nanofibers that deliver an anti-inflammatory drug, anakinra, directly to the damaged disc [1]. Anakinra, a recombinant interleukin-1 receptor antagonist, has been shown to reduce inflammation and promote tissue repair [1].

What sets TARP apart is its activation mechanism [2]. The patch is designed to respond to the natural biomechanical movements of the body, which in turn triggers the release of anakinra from microcapsules embedded within the patch. This ensures a sustained and controlled release of the medication, enhancing the disc’s ability to regain tension and integrity over time [1].

The implications of this technology are profound [2]. By providing a means to not only plug the ‘hole’ caused by herniation but also to restore the disc’s natural tension, TARP offers a potential cure for a condition that has long been considered irreversible. The researchers’ preclinical trials in large animal models have shown promising results, with discs regaining the necessary tension to reverse herniation and prevent further degeneration [2]. Moreover, the TARP could revolutionize the way we approach spinal injuries [1]. With its ability to integrate with the native tissue and reinforce the structure at the injury site, it prevents the aberrant remodeling that often follows disc detensioning. This could significantly reduce the incidence of recurrent herniations and persistent dysfunction, which are common with conventional treatments [1].

As we look to the future, the TARP presents a beacon of hope for millions suffering from spinal conditions [2]. The prospect of a treatment that not only alleviates pain but also restores spinal function is a monumental leap forward. While further research and human clinical trials are necessary, the TARP stands as a testament to the ingenuity of medical science and its relentless pursuit of solutions that restore quality of life to those afflicted by debilitating conditions.

The TARP’s innovative design is not just a theoretical concept but a tangible advancement poised to transform spinal treatment protocols. Its unique tension-activated mechanism aligns seamlessly with the body’s natural movements, promoting a more organic healing process. The use of anakinra within the TARP system exemplifies the shift towards targeted therapeutic strategies, offering a glimpse into the future of personalized medicine. This technology’s adaptability suggests it could be tailored for various orthopedic applications, potentially improving outcomes for patients with a range of degenerative conditions. As the research community continues to explore the full capabilities of TARP, it stands as a beacon of progress in the ongoing quest to address some of the most challenging medical conditions faced today.

In conclusion, the tension-activated repair patch is a pioneering solution that addresses the root cause of disc herniation. It offers a new hope for patients, potentially changing the course of spinal disease progression and opening the door to a future where ‘flat tires’ in the spine can be fully and effectively repaired. It’s important to note that the tests are still in the early stages and there are many factors to consider while treating a herniated disk, like the extent of herniation. Extruded and sequestered disc fragments need removal of disc fragments.


  1. Peredo, A. et al. (2023). Tension-activated nanofiber patches delivering an anti-inflammatory drug improve repair in a goat intervertebral disc herniation model. Science Translational Medicine, 15(2), eabcm1654. https://doi.org/10.1126/scitranslmed.abcm1654
  2. University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. (2023). ‘Patch’ Uses Natural Body Motion to Fix Disc Herniation. Penn Medicine News. Retrieved from https://www.pennmedicine.org/news/news-releases/2023/january/patch-uses-natural-body-motion-to-fix-disc-herniation