Spinal Stem Cells Offer Hope Against Back Pain

Thursday, November 1, 2007; 12:00 AM

THURSDAY, Nov. 1 (HealthDay News) -- For the first time, researchers have found stem cells within the intervertebral discs of the human spine.

They say it may someday be possible to use these stem cells to help repair degenerating discs in order to treat neck and lower back pain.

The finding was published in the Nov. 1 issue of the journalSpine.

As spinal discs degenerate, cells are lost, and there's a decrease is the ability to produce water-binding molecules called proteoglycans. Water absorbs force on the spine. The loss of proteoglycans can result in disc damage and pain.

"It would be wonderful it we could get the cells in the intervertebral disc to regenerate or increase the amount of proteoglycans they can synthesize. That way, we could regenerate the shock-absorbing capabilities of the spine," researcher Irving Shapiro, professor of orthopedic surgery at Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, said in a prepared statement.

He noted that other researchers have used bone marrow stem cells to create new bone, cartilage and fat tissue.

"Our next step is to activate these disc stem cells and get them to repopulate the disc and make proteoglycans and restore the water binding," Shapiro said.

While the stem cells are present in degenerated discs, the researchers suspect there may be molecules blocking stem cell activity that could repair the discs. They said further research is required to learn more about these inhibitory molecules and to find ways to block their activity and promote natural healing of damaged discs.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about back pain.

SOURCE: Jefferson Medical College, news release, Oct. 31, 2007

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