Chronic lower back pain is one of the most common reasons people seek medical attention. Studies indicate that 8 out of 10 Americans will likely experience low back pain during their lives. Annually, the costs associated with chronic low back pain top $100M, including lost wages and productivity. Opioid painkillers are a standard treatment for chronic pain conditions, but they carry the significant risk of addiction. One promising new stem cell treatment may reduce the need for opioids by eliminating pain at the source.
Researchers from Mesoblast in Melbourne, Australia developed a technique to rebuild damaged vertebral discs, which are a primary source of chronic low back pain. The research team injected mesenchymal stem cells into damaged vertebral discs in sheep. The cells virtually restored the damaged tissue, reduced inflammation, and improved the secretion of substances that promote natural healing.
Based on this experiment, the research team conducted a limited clinical trial of the same technique on 100 human patients. The patients who received the mesenchymal stem cell injections showed significant improvement in the condition of the damaged tissues. More importantly, the stem cell repair provided lasting improvements over a period of two years. Currently, the team is conducting a larger clinical trial to verify that they can duplicate their early results.
The goal is to provide long term relief from chronic back pain. Doing so may reduce the need for opioids among patients who have experienced degradation of their vertebral discs.
Stem cells reduce the need for opioids for back pain treatment
The team is specifically focused on using stem cells as a potential treatment for degenerative disc disease, which is responsible for more than one-fifth of chronic back pain cases. Discs that sit between vertebrae act as shock absorbers, but repeated injuries can cause the specialized tissue to shrink. In some cases, disc degeneration is so significant that it can trap nerves between members of the vertebral column, leading to chronic, severe pain.
Researchers say that about half of the test subjects experienced lasting relief from chronic back pain following a single stem cell injection. Many patients in the study report being pain free for two years. A small number of patients have reported no significant pain for three years.
About half of the study subjects also reported significant improvements in mobility. Only 13% of the control group, which received saline injections reported improvement in mobility.
Researchers say that the stem cells “reinflate” damaged discs following injection by trapping water in new disc cells. The use of stem cells is promising because it is less invasive and potentially more successful than surgery or medication – both standard treatments for chronic back pain.
In addition, eliminating or reducing pain at the damage site also means that doctors can reduce the need for opioids. Eliminating or reducing opioid prescriptions is a primary goal in the United States and elsewhere. Currently, public health officials in the UK and Australia are monitoring a sharp increase in the number of opioid-related deaths in their respective countries.
The Melbourne researchers used stem cells harvested from living marrow donors. Other sources of mesenchymal stem cells – including dental pulp – could eliminate risks associated with harvesting human stem cells and reduce the need for opioids at the same time.
Dental pulp is a rich source of stem cells
Healthy dental pulp is a rich source of mesenchymal stem cells. Unlike bone marrow harvesting, tooth extraction is a standard procedure with minimal and well managed risk. Unfortunately, dentists and oral surgeons typically discard our extracted teeth. Those who choose to bank their dental stem cells will preserve their opportunity to access to the most cutting-edge medical advancements of the future.
Preservation of dental pulp may turn out to be an important key to future access of new stem cell treatments for previously untreatable or chronic conditions, including degenerative disc disease. If you would like more information about preserving stem cells from dental pulp, please download the free NDPL InfoKit by clicking below, or by calling us at (774) 843-2984.
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