Mesoblast, an Australian-based regenerative medicine company, recently announced results from the second phase of a clinical trial on stem cell therapy. The study involved patients with chronic low back pain (CLBP) due to disc degeneration, also known as degenerative disc disease (DDD). Subjects were given an injection containing millions of stem cells to determine if their pain would decrease and function would improve over a three-year period.

Sustained Relief with a Single Injection

A hundred CLBP patients participated in the trial, some of whom were given a placebo injection. The others were given a single injection containing varying amounts of special stem cells known as mesenchymal precursor cells. The ongoing patient testing is significant because it could mean some individuals with chronic lower back pain may respond well to one shot that could provide relief for several years.

Reduced Need for Corrective Surgery for Disc Issues

Surgery is a common treatment for degenerative disc disease that isn’t responding well to conservative (non-surgical) treatments. Often including spinal fusion surgery, Beverly Hills surgeons frequently perform these procedures to remove damaged discs and ease nerve pressure, and they are fairly reliable. Even so, such operations are expensive and often require several months of recovery. The unique advantage of this type of stem cell therapy is that the injections, based on results reported so far, appear to encourage ongoing cell and tissue repair. This may negate the need for spine surgery for some patients.

The goal of the study was for subjects to see a reduction in pain of at least 50 percent on a self-assessed pain scale. Approximately 40 percent of the phase II participants achieved this goal within two years. Half of the subjects in one of the groups tested reported a 50 percent reduction in pain and didn’t need any further intervention. About 82 to 92 percent of patients in the various groups assessed who met the 50 percent pain reduction goal reported ongoing relief during the observation period.

A Possible Alternative to Opioid Medications

Nearly a quarter of the 33 million Americans who have chronic lower back pain are affected by disc degeneration. Many of these patients are prescribed pain medications classified as opioids. While often effective for pain relief purposes, such drugs are also highly addictive. Researchers are hoping to see similar results in the ongoing third phase of the trial. Should this be the case, it could mean patients with CLBP have an available alternative to pain meds that’s free of the widely reported risks associated with opioids.

In general, stem cell therapy has proven to be an effective treatment for some people with persistent back pain. With most forms of the treatment, the patient’s own stem cells are used. These specialized cells are unique in that they are undefined and can adopt the characteristics of the other cells where they are placed. This often leads to increased tissue healing and better management of back pain.

If you are living with chronic pain related to degenerative disc disease or another spinal condition, make sure to see a trusted spine surgeon. Beverly Hills patients can rely on Dr. Hyun Bae at The Spine Institute to diagnose the source of their pain and help them find effective relief. Give us a call today at 310-828-7757 to schedule an in-person evaluation.