What do sheep and humans have in common? According to results from a recent study, the answer could be experiencing relief from spinal disc damage with a certain type of adult stem cells. As is the case with other stem cells, mesenchymal precursor cells, which were used in the experiment analyzed in this study, can adapt the characteristics of different cells wherever they are used. Here’s a closer look at the results and what the future may hold for stem cells used for degenerative disc repair, shared by the trusted Beverly Hills spine surgeons from The Spine Institute.
For the experiment conducted for the study, discs within the spines of sheep were purposely damaged with injections. The stem cells used for disc repair were combined with hyaluronic acid in varying doses. For control purposes, some healthy discs were only injected with hyaluronic acid. The sheep were evaluated three and six months after stem cell/hyaluronic acid injections.
Spinal height in the damaged discs in the sheep was reduced approximately 45 to 50 percent from what’s considered normal. In all instances, some degree of recovery was observed after six months. However, it was only the discs injected with stem cells that recovered to within normal disc height levels. The stem cell injections facilitated the regeneration of non-cellular components found within all tissues, referred to as the extracellular matrix.
When spinal disc height is restored, whether it’s with stem cell regeneration or surgery involving special hardware or artificial discs, patients often experience relief from bothersome symptoms. Common types of discomfort associated with disc degeneration that may improve with stem cell therapy include:
• Abnormal tingling (“pins and needles”) sensations (paraesthesia)
• Lower back pain
• General weakness
• Radiating nerve pain that usually extends to the hips and legs
A previous study also done with stem cells derived from bone marrow, which is what mesenchymal precursor cells are, involved two older women. Both patients had a partial discectomy. The void left from the removal of part of the damaged disc in each patient was filled with a collagen sponge that contained stem cells. Two years later, both patients reported better spinal stability and symptom improvements.
Golf legend Jack Nicklaus has credited stem cell treatment for his back pain relief. His specific source of pain was damage to small spinal joints called facet joints. Nicklaus had previously tried steroid injections, which only provided temporary relief. He has experienced more significant improvements since having stem cell injections. The general consensus within the medical community is that while high-profile success stories like this can shine a positive spotlight on stem cell therapy, it shouldn’t be the first attempt at treating symptoms related to disc or joint damage.
As stem cell therapy research continues to expand and clinical trials continue, it may eventually become a common recommendation for treating lower back pain related to degenerative disc disease, especially for patients hoping to avoid surgery. Right now, the standard treatment involves medication, physical therapy, and changes in diet and exercise habits. It should also be noted that disc-related discomfort related to general wear that occurs with age sometimes naturally levels off or becomes less of a distraction over time.
Degenerative disc disease can impact quality of life. To determine a treatment for repairing damaged discs, reach out to The Spine Institute. We specialize in procedures such as lumbar foraminotomy and kyphoplasty surgery. Beverly Hills patients can trust Dr. Hyun Bae to help them find relief from pain. Call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an in-person evaluation.