Medicine: Treatment by Tenderizer

Papain, an enzyme derived from the papaya plant, is a familiar item to most housewives. Sold in grocery stores as a meat tenderizer, it can make even the toughest cuts easy to chew. Now papain is moving from the kitchen into the operating room. At hospitals in Boston and Chicago, doctors are using the extract (known medically as chymopapain) to tenderize slipped spinal discs, a treatment that relieves pain and spares many patients surgery.

Spinal discs, cushionlike pads that separate the vertebrae, are composed of tough, cartilaginous fibers and filled with water and a...

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