Doctors in Italy are looking for solutions to low back pain by attacking what they say is the main cause, intervertebral disc degeneration, that is the progressive decrease of the gel-like content of the disc. Traditional treatments, they point out, based upon conservative and invasive procedures are not capable of restoring the degenerative alterations of the disc, as they only help relieve the symptoms and/or slow down disc degeneration and are, nonetheless, characterized by significant side-effects, costs and secondary risks.
The potential use of stem cells for treating intervertebral disc degeneration has been promising with studies showing proof of disc matrix reconstitution, increased cell viability and tissue regeneration in several experimental settings.1
For an introduction to stem cell therapy and spinal disorders visit our page on back pain
A fascinating study on how stem cells can repair degenerative disc disease has been released by university researchers in Portugal. The researchers found that when stem cells were injected into the spine, the stem cells created a change in the disc environment from disease towards repair and disc regeneration by signal initiation (Signalling).
Signalling means the stem cells communicated with the immune system at the site of disc degeneration and disc herniation to create a new healing program.
In basic terms the stems cells arrived, told the immune system where they were, the immune and stem cells met at the site of disc damage and began the repair. As the study states: ” (this) highlights the complex interplay between stromal (stem) cells and cells of the immune system in achieving successful intervertebral disc tissue regeneration.”2
Emory University Researchers say stem cells may be the non-surgical answer to degenerative disc disease
- A single injection of stem cells into degenerative discs reduced low back pain for at least 12 months according to results of a 100-patient clinical trial that included researchers at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center at Emory University.
- On average researchers found a pain reduction greater than 50 percent at 12 months.Additionally, there was less need for pain medication, improvement in function, and less need for further surgical and non-surgical spine interventions. These results were found in patients with moderate to severe discogenic low back pain.3
In another recent study, military researchers at Third Military Medical University in China found injection of mesenchymal stem cells a promising biological therapy for degenerative disc disease that significantly reduces lumbar pain.4
Doctors writing in the medical journal Stem Cells published evidence of safety and feasibility in the nonsurgical treatment of degenerative disc disease with bone marrow stem cells and discogenic pain.
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1 Vadalà G, Russo F, Ambrosio L, Papalia R, Denaro V. Mesenchymal stem cells for intervertebral disc regeneration.
J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. 2016 Oct-Dec;30(4 Suppl 1):173-179.
2 Cunha C, Almeida CR, Almeida MI, Silva AM, Molinos M, Lamas S, Pereira CL, Teixeira GQ, Monteiro AT, Santos SG, Gonçalves RM, Barbosa MA. Systemic Delivery of Bone Marrow Mesenchymal Stem Cells for In Situ Intervertebral Disc Regeneration. Stem Cells Transl Med. 2016 Oct 11. pii: sctm.2016-0033.
4 Feng C, Liu H, Yang Y, Huang B, Zhou Y. Growth and Differentiation Factor-5 Contributes to the Structural and Functional Maintenance of the Intervertebral Disc.Cell Physiol Biochem. 2015 Jan 2;35(1):1-16.
5 Pettine KA, Murphy MB, Suzuki RK, Sand TT. Percutaneous injection of autologous bone marrow concentrate cells significantly reduces lumbar discogenic pain through 12 months. Stem Cells. 2015 Jan;33(1):146-56. doi: 10.1002/stem.1845.