Help For Back Pain

Maria Cohut recently published an article that was fact checked by Paula Field about implants that are made from your own cells that could end your back pain.  Both neck and back pain are quite often the result of progressive damage of the discs that separate the spinal vertebrae.  There is new multidisciplinary research that might give a better solution, such as bioengineered discs grown from a person’s own cells.

A common problem affecting a large number of the population is intervertebral disc degeneration.  The healthy discs function by absorbing stress that is put on the spine when moving and adjusting posture in a similar way of a car suspension.  When these discs wear out there can be pain in areas of a person’s back or neck.  Treatments used so far for intervertebral disc degeneration include spinal fusion surgery and replacing any damaged discs with artificial ones.

The approaches so far bring limited benefits as they cannot restore the full function of the discs they replace.  A research team from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, School of Engineering and Applied Science, and School of Veterinary Medicine is attempting to solve this issue by developing bioengineered intervertebral discs made of an individual’s own stem cells.

The cells are undifferentiated cells and have the potential to transform into any specialized cells.  This is the reason they have become the focus of multiple medical research studies, including this particular one.

They have been working over the past 15 years on bioengineered disc models.  It was first in laboratory studies, then in small animal studies and recently, in large animal studies.  To grow a large disc in the lab, get it into the disc space and to have it start integrating with the surrounding native tissue is a major step that is very promising.  Prof. Robert L. Mauck is co-senior author of the current study.

The new discs have been tested by researchers in rat tails for 5 weeks.  The results appear in the journal Science Translational Medicine where the team developed the engineered discs even further in the new model endplate-modified DAPS (eDAPS) in rats again for up to 20 weeks.  This structure allows it to retain shape better and integrate easily with the surrounding tissue.  Researchers found that in the rat model, eDAPS effectively restored original disc structure and function following MRI scans and in-depth tissue and mechanical analyses.

Dr. Harvey E. Smith, co-senior author of the study, believes that when looking at the success in the literature from mechanical devices, there is very good reason to be optimistic that we can reach that same success, if not exceed it with the engineered discs.

Dr Fredda Branyon