One of the ways we are working to stay at the forefront of pain treatment at the Spine Institute Northwest is with our growing focus on regenerative medicine. Regenerative medicine — sometimes also referred to as stem cell therapy — involves using the body’s own cells, as well as other organic material, to encourage the body to heal itself more quickly by growing new cells in the affected area.
A 2013 study from the Columbia Interventional Pain Center in St. Louis adds to the encouraging experimental results that have been seen with regenerative medicine. In this case, stem cell-rich bone marrow was extracted from patients who suffer from degenerative disc disease, then injected into the worn-out discs in the hopes of helping them grow healthy new tissue.
The study looked at the case histories of 24 patients who were injected with bone marrow aspirate cellular concentrate (BMAC). Bone marrow contains adult stem cells. Stem cells have the potential to change into any kind of cell within the body, and the idea is that injecting them into a spinal disc, they will transform into new tissue for the injured disc. As in other regenerative medicine techniques (such as injections with platelet rich plasma, or PRP), the bone marrow is extracted — in this case, from the hip — and then concentrated to ensure a large number of stem cells.
The patients in the study experienced chronic lower back pain, from a low of three months to, at the other extreme, suffering for 12 years. Due to the persistence of their conditions, more conservative therapies (like exercise or OTC medications) were no longer an option, and these patients had become candidates for spinal fusion ceremony. Before resorting to fusion however, the doctors at the St. Louis pain center offered them the option of bone marrow treatment.
Among the 24 patients who were treated with bone marrow, 12 went on to have other procedures done to relieve their pain over the next 2½ years, adding a confounding variable. Of the 12 who sought no other kind of treatment, however, 10 reported that their pain had lessened in the 2-4 months following the procedure, and after a year, 8 still reported significant pain relief. None of the 24 patients experienced any complications from the bone marrow procedure.
Though more research is still needed before we can conclude that regenerative therapies offer lasting relief, this preliminary study adds to the burgeoning literature on the promise of stem cell therapy. Given more time, we will have more information on the ways that regenerative medicine can be used, and considerably more knowledge about the long-term prognoses from these treatments. As new studies come out, we’ll continue to keep you up to date here on our blog.
Curious about the regenerative therapies offered at the Spine Institute Northwest? Call us at (425) 486-1000 to learn more.