New Study on Cell Therapy for Degenerative Disc Disease

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Australian-based regenerative medicine company Mesoblast recently announced results of the second part of an ongoing clinical trial. The research involves cell injections given to patients with chronic lower back pain related to degenerative disc disease (DDD). Initial results suggest the company’s cell therapy may provide sustained relief for patients who haven’t responded well to non-surgical treatments and steroid injections directly into the affected area.

Repairing Damage with Cell Regeneration

This new cell therapy is among the latest innovations in regenerative medicine, a form of tissue healing and cell repair most people know about from research specific to stem cells. However, Mesoblast’s cell therapy has nothing to do with stem cells. It’s a form of cell regeneration that works by injecting millions of mesenchymal precursor cells (MPC) into the affected area of the spine to heal the damaged disc. The injections are already being used in some patients who had heart surgery to encourage the development of new heart muscle cells and the repair of blood vessels.

Encouraging Results in Clinical Trials

During the second phase of the clinical trial, patients with chronic back pain due to DDD were divided into multiple groups. A few groups were given injections of either 6 million or 18 million MPC cells while the other subjects were given either a saline solution or hyaluronic acid. The goal was to achieve a significant reduction in self-reported pain and disability levels with no need for additional treatments up to two years after cell injections.

More significant results were seen in patients who received injections with 6 million MPC cells rather than 18 million MPCs, with anywhere from 40 to 90 percent reporting lasting relief at one-year and two-year evaluation points, according to various pain and function indicators. Results were significantly lower for the saline and hyaluronic acid patients, suggesting it was the cell injections that eased disc-related discomfort for the majority of the study participants who received MPC injections. Researchers are hoping to see similar results during the third phase of the trial for confirmation purposes.

Possible Benefits for People with DDD

If results hold up in the next phase of the trial, Mesoblast’s cell therapy could help patients with chronic back pain become less dependent on pain medications, including opioid drugs. Such medications are highly addictive, and it’s not always easy to determine when to wean patients off of them since chronic back pain is highly subjective (based on a patient’s self-assessment). Possible candidates for MPC injections are patients with DDD who:

  • Have tried conservative treatments without success
  • Wish to consider an alternative to disc removal or fusion surgery
  • Have not experienced lasting relief following surgery

As with other treatment options available from Mesoblast, the company’s products are generally meant for patients without other significant health issues who have not had meaningful results from other remedies. If cell therapy for degenerative disc disease proves to be effective for a wider range of patients, it may become a reliable alternative to spine surgery. Beverly Hills patients will be pleased to learn that researchers claim cell therapy does something that other treatments for DDD don’t, which is treat the actual source of the problem (the damaged tissues in the disc), not just the symptoms.

At The Spine Institute Center for Spinal Restoration, we are always hoping for promising new advancements that can help alleviate chronic back and neck pain. We specialize in a wide variety of spinal fusion and non-fusion procedures, including decompression and anterior lumbar interbody fusion. Beverly Hills residents who are seeking an effective solution for pain relief should call The Spine Institute today at 310-828-7757.