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Why stem cells are the next frontier for spinal treatments

Posted January 17, 2019 7:30 a.m. EST

The intervertebral disc is the spine's shock absorber. As you age, proteoglycans (a type of tissue protein) in your disc's nucleus begin to decrease. These proteoglycans are vital for the health of the disc and deficits can lead to pain. (Wavebreak Media Ltd/Big Stock Photo)

This article was written for our sponsor, Dr. Sameer Mathur, Orthopedic Surgeon.

Stem cells have the potential to treat diseases and ailments of all types, from diabetes to spinal cord injuries. In fact, stem cells have become an increasingly advantageous option for patients with spinal disorders.

A study published in the World Journal of Stem Cells says scientific advances have enabled spinal surgeons to treat patients with stem cells to help in the regeneration of degenerated discs, healing spinal cord injuries and helping bone growth in spinal fusions.

"In the late '90s and early 2000s, patients were primarily treated with open surgical procedures," said Dr. Sameer Mathur, a board-certified orthopaedic spinal surgeon at Cary Orthopaedics. "Over time, my practice evolved to more minimally invasive surgery. Patients did much better after surgery and the recovery was faster."

Mathur believes that stem cell injections are a viable option for certain patients struggling with low back and leg pain. Stem cells have the ability to alleviate pain and discomfort.

Roughly 85 percent of patients Mathur treated reported improved symptoms after spinal stem cell treatments. However, Mathur clarified that some spinal conditions still require surgical intervention.

"I made an appointment to see Dr. Mathur due to low, chronic back pain that I'd been experiencing for the last couple years. The pain was chronic; and day and night, it limited my sleep, it limited overall, things I like to do," Regan Richardson said. "The procedure was easy — the results have been life-changing. Within two months, I was 80 percent pain free."

How It Works

There are different methods to obtain stem cells such as from the embryo, fat and bone marrow. While embryonic stem cells are controversial, stem cells in this case for the treatment of spinal disorders are taken from the adult patient using their own bone marrow from their hip — the soft and spongy tissue found in the center of bones. Adult bone marrow is rich in pluripotent stem cells, meaning that these cells have the ability to become various types of tissues such as fat, bone, or cartilage. These stem cells are regenerative and can repair and rebuild damaged tissue.

Concentrated cells offer pain relief, accelerate the healing process, promote strength and improve overall function. Once the collected sample is extracted, it's transferred through a filter and centrifuge that separates the stem cells and makes them viable for introduction to the injured site through an injection.

The procedure is an outpatient, minimally invasive one that takes roughly an hour from start to finish. It's usually recommended for patients between the ages of 20 and 70 since the quantity and quality of your stem cells slowly decline as you age.

Bone marrow stem cells can be used to treat osteoarthritis, joint pain, low back pain and other spinal conditions. It has also been proven to help degenerative disc disease, which is something that cannot be treated with surgery.

The intervertebral disc is the spine's shock absorber. As you age, proteoglycans (a type of tissue protein) in your disc's nucleus begin to decrease. These proteoglycans are vital for the health of the disc and deficits can lead to pain. The introduction of stem cells into the disc can help rebuild and repair its damaged nucleus, thus leading to pain relief.

"Stem cells heal the disc organically using the body's own cells," Mathur explained.

Benefits of Stem Cell Therapy

While the site of the injection may cause temporary pain and it may take up to three months to experience improvement, there are several benefits to stem cell therapy for spinal conditions such as:

  • Minimally invasive;
  • Fewer side effects compared to surgery;
  • Natural approach using your own reservoir of cells;
  • Little to no down time;
  • Regenerative properties that promote healing and pain relief.

"I have been treating back pain for over a decade," Mathur said. "Unfortunately, there have been no good treatment options including physical therapy, medications and even surgery. Regenerative medicine is the next frontier in treating low back pain caused by degenerative disc disease."

This article was written for our sponsor, Dr. Sameer Mathur, Orthopedic Surgeon.