Approximately two out of every three adults suffer from back or neck pain at some point during their lives.
Though the causes for back and neck pain are not fully understood, degeneration of discs that lie between the vertebrae – known as intervertebral discs – is frequently associated with pain. The degeneration of these discs compromises the discs’ structural integrity and eventually their mechanical function.
Luckily, innovative advances in regenerative medicine are improving the likelihood that intervertebral disc degeneration can one day be corrected and that people with this condition will be relieved of their pain.
New research into the use of stem cells to correct intervertebral disc degeneration was just published in Science Translational Medicine.
As discussed in this new paper, there have been no significant disc degeneration treatments or interventions to date that reverse intervertebral disc degeneration. Spinal fusion, for instance, which has frequently been performed on patients with intervertebral disc degeneration, can involve removing the disc and may lead to further degeneration of nearby segments.
Devices known as mechanical arthroplasty devices offer an alternative to spinal fusion but have not been widely adopted because of skepticism about their ability to improve symptoms over a long period of time as well as the difficulty they pose for subsequent surgeries.
Given the success of stem cells and tissue engineering applications to treat other back problems and even other disc issues, scientists have reasoned that using similar techniques to resolve intervertebral disc degeneration may be promising.
Specifically, a tissue engineering process could theoretically be employed to restore the height of the disc space, integrate with other existing structures in the spine, and mimic the activity and function of a normal intervertebral disc.
Recent research has helped to progress this idea and to demonstrate its feasibility. The recently published data show for the first time that a tissue engineered structure can successfully be integrated within the spine and effectively recapitulate normal mechanical functioning.
Future research will help to clarify if and how regenerative medicine strategies can help to reinstate mechanical functioning and relieve pain in those with intervertebral disc degeneration.
The positive results we see with our regenerative medicine techniques each day make us hopeful that this new line of research will provide us with new treatment options to help our patients.
- Gullbrand SE, Ashinsky BG, Bonnevie ED, et al. Long-term mechanical function and integration of an implanted tissue-engineered intervertebral disc. Sci Transl Med. 2018;10(468). doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.aau0670
- Ajiboye RM, Eckardt MA, Hamamoto JT, Plotkin B, Daubs MD, Wang JC. Outcomes of Demineralized Bone Matrix Enriched with Concentrated Bone Marrow Aspirate in Lumbar Fusion. Int J spine Surg. 2016;10:35. doi:10.14444/3035
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- Dominici M, Le Blanc K, Mueller I, et al. Minimal criteria for defining multipotent mesenchymal stromal cells. The International Society for Cellular Therapy position statement. Cytotherapy. 2006;8(4):315-317. doi:10.1080/14653240600855905