Stem Cells for Treating Degenerative Disc Disease Look Promising

Back pain related to degenerative disc disease is a leading cause of disability worldwide. Unfortunately, effective treatments are fleeting. Even the best treatments do not always work. Even when they do work, pain relief can be limited. But there is an emerging treatment that looks quite promising: stem cell therapy.

For the record, the therapy being referenced in this post is an autologous therapy. This means that patients donate their own stem cells for treatment. Doctors are not utilizing stem cells donated by other parties. Also note that the stem cells are mesenchymal cells.

The Basic Premise

As you may or may not know, stem cells are non-specific cells found throughout the body. They can differentiate to become different types of tissue as they multiply. However, each type of stem cell is limited in its ability to differentiate. Mesenchymal stem cells can only become connective tissues like muscle, ligaments, and so forth.

The underlying concept of autologous stem cell therapy to treat degenerative disk disease is based on the premise that mesenchymal stem cells can replicate to become new disc tissue. In so doing, they can replace the damaged and lost tissue associated with the disease.

Pain medicine specialists, particularly those unafraid of emerging therapies, are already utilizing stem cell therapy on a limited basis. Lone Star Pain Medicine in Weatherford, TX is typical of the pain medicine clinic that recommends stem cell therapy. They report good outcomes among their patients.

A Minimally Invasive Procedure

Among the many benefits associated with stem cell therapy is its minimally invasive nature. To treat degenerative disc disease, a doctor would first extract mesenchymal cells from either bone marrow or adipose fat. The extracted material would be processed in a centrifuge to isolate and concentrate the stem cells.

The resulting material is then injected into the damaged discs. From there, the cells begin to multiply and differentiate to rebuild lost or damaged tissue. Because the process is so simple, patients who tend to not struggle with blood draws do not struggle with stem cell therapy either.

Further Approval Is Unnecessary

One of the criticisms of autologous stem cell therapies is that they are not FDA approved. Such criticisms are misleading, at best. The FDA approved the use of minimally manipulated autologous material decades ago. Autologous stem cell therapies fall under that category.

Further approval for autologous procedures is unnecessary. And due to the fact that it can take more than a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars to get FDA approval for new medical procedures, providers aren’t willing to take things any further. As long as they rely on minimally manipulated autologous material, their procedures are fine.

Previous FDA approval is based on the understanding that autologous material poses very little risk of rejection because it comes from the very patient being treated. As for the procedure itself, it carries the same minimal risks as any other injection.

Study Data Looks Good

Although medical science is still struggling to fully understand the mechanisms behind stem cell therapy, study data looks good so far. Numerous studies, including two published within the last two years, demonstrate that stem cell therapy works as a treatment for degenerative disk disease in some patients.

A 2023 study conducted as a systematic review of ten previous studies supports stem cell therapy to reduce pain and improve function. Meanwhile, a 2024 study examined a variety of literature relating to both animal and human studies dating back as far as 1998. The conclusion of both studies is simple: treating degenerative disk disease with stem cell therapy looks promising.

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