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Advances in health and medicine.
Marjorie Bekaert Thomas
Advances in health and medicine.
General Health Channel
Reported July 12, 2013

Stem Cells to the Rescue: Oh, my Back! -- Research Summary

BACKGROUND: Back pain affects 80 percent of Americans at some point in their lives.  In fact, back pain problems are the most common physical complaints among American adults and are a leading cause of lost job time.  It can include sore tendons and muscles, fractures, herniated discs, and other problems.  The most common back pain causes include nerve and muscular problems, arthritis, and degenerative disc disease.  It is important to understand that back pain is a symptom of a medical condition; it is not a diagnosis itself.  (Source:

MEDICAL PROBLEMS:  Medical problems that cause back pain can include:

  • Injuries—Spine injuries, like fractures and sprains, can cause short-lived or chronic back pain.  Sprains are tears in the ligaments that support the spine, and they occur from lifting improperly.  Fractured vertebrae are often from osteoporosis.  Accidents and falls are also causes of back pain. 
  • Mechanical Problems—A mechanical problem is because of the way the spine moves or the way you feel when you move your spine in certain ways.  One of the most common mechanical causes of back pain is a condition called intervertebral disc degeneration, meaning that the discs between the vertebrae of the spine are breaking down with age.  (Source:

TREATMENT:  Most back pain gets better with home treatment and careful attention.  A short period of bed rest is recommended, but too many days can actually do more harm than good. When it is more severe, physical therapy is the cornerstone of back pain treatment.  A physical therapist can apply a variety of treatments, like ultrasound, heat, electrical stimulation, and muscle-release techniques.  If that doesn’t work, injections are another option.  The doctor may inject cortisone into the space around the spinal cord.  (Source:

NEW TECHNOLOGY: For some patients, traditional treatment just doesn’t work.  So, one of the newest breakthroughs in managing back pain is coming from stem cells.  A company called Mesoblast released the latest news in a string of studies examining the ability of a specific type of stem cell to treat back pain. In the earliest tests, the company injected mesenchymal precursor cells (MPCs) into three adjacent lumbar discs in 24 adult male sheep.  The sheep were injected with chrondroitinase in order to mimic disc degeneration and other discs were left alone.  The degenerated discs had 45 to 50 percent less height before treatment with MPCs.  After the discs were injected, they rehydrated and increased in height at statistically significant rates.  Mesoblast has now released its second round of preliminary results from a phase 2 human study.  For this phase, researchers injected allogeneic MPCs into damaged intervertebral discs.  Researchers at IPM Medical Group in Walnut Creek, California; The Spine Institute in Santa Monica, California; Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine in Charlotte, North Carolina; Arizona Pain Specialists in Phoenix, Arizona; Virginia I-Spine Physicians in Richmond, Virginia, and Emory Orthropaedics & Spine Center in Atlanta, Georgia, report that a single low-dose injection of MPC significantly reduced low back pain in the treated patients and did so at a statistically significant way when compared to the control group.  The study has enrolled 100 patients in 13 sited in the U.S. and Australia.  At the six month follow-up, 71 percent of patients who received a low dose of MPCs met the pre-specified treatment success criteria.  Twenty and thirty percent of the patients in the two control arms who received hyaluronic acid and saline met the pre-specified success criteria.  (Source:  "Stem cell research within the disc is very exciting. It focuses on addressing the source of the pain, rather than solely the treatment,” Dr. Tory McJunckin was quoted as saying.  “As an interventional pain doctor I have seen incredible advances in the specialty during the past 10 years – and this study shows we are still at the tip of the iceberg for major advances in pain medicine.” (Source:

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