Stem Cells in Fighting Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease causes intense and chronic lower back pain and is one of the most common diseases in the developed world. In the United States, lower back pain is the most common health issue in people under the age of 50, often causing people as young as teens or those in their twenties to suffer from this consistent back pain. While not all lower back pain is caused by degenerative disc disease, it is often one of the main culprits.

What is it?

Degenerative disc disease is when discs in between invertebrate begin to wear away from normal activity. This causes discomfort as the bones rub together. Fortunately, having this disease, even when you’re young, does not necessarily mean the symptoms will get worse as you age. Though your discs will continue to degenerate, that does not mean the symptoms continue to do so. There’s a likelihood that your symptoms will always be manageable. Disc degeneration also happens to everyone at some point in their lives, so it’s a natural process that just occurs sooner rather than later for some people and causes worse symptoms for some more than others.

Is there a cure?

For a long time, methods were used that only treated the symptoms of the disease, instead of the underlying issue. Now, with various new techniques and technology such as stem cell research, there’s an opportunity to correct the real issue that causes degenerative disc disease instead of waiting until after symptoms begin affecting people and interrupting their lives.

Ways stem cell research helps

One way stem cells have helped combat the issues associated with degenerative disc disease is through gene therapy. This method takes desirable genes from another person’s DNA and inserts these genes into the patient’s cells in order to prevent a disease or issue from occurring. Sometimes, gene therapy can even be done in vitro, preventing the person at risk from a disease from ever experiencing any symptoms.

Two types of stem cell transplants are available and show promise during tests. One type is “stem cell transplant viable.” During tests with the Mayo Clinic, the height of the disc injected with viable stem cells had increased, as did water content inside the disc. Because of the success of this study, more studies were performed, which led to the use of mesenchymal stem cells. These stem cells are harvested from adult cells in adipose, bone marrow, and some other tissues. Because of the type of stem cell they are, mesenchymal cells can be injected and used for ex vivo therapy, benefiting adults already dealing with degenerative disc disease. In early studies, it seems as though the mesenchymal stem cells can slow down degeneration and even promote new growth in the discs. To read more about this study, look here.

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