Xiaodong Pang and colleagues have demonstrated the successful use of human umbilical cord tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells in the treatment of chronic discogenic low back pain. The study, published in Pain Physician, is the first study to addressing the potential of this particular treatment option for chronic discogenic low back pain.
Chronic discogenic low back pain is the leading cause of chronic low back pain, which leads to a significant amount of disability. This type of back pain does not currently have any highly successful treatment options. Generally, the pain is managed conservatively, and if all else fails, surgical fusion is undertaken. Neither of these options addresses the underlying cause of chronic discogenic low back pain and instead simply address the symptoms, offering ways to try to reverse those symptoms.
In this initial study conducted by Pang and colleagues, the researchers aimed to establish that human umbilical cord tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells could be both feasibly and safely used in humans to treat chronic discogenic low back pain. The study, conducted at a spine center in China, focused on two patients with chronic discogenic low back pain. Both patients underwent the transplantation of the stem cells, and their back pain symptoms and lumbar function were assessed both immediately after the transplants and again two years later.
The researchers found that both the pain and the function associated with the patients’ back conditions improved immediately after the stem cell transplants. In addition to demonstrating that this particular transplant procedure was feasible, the researchers also showed that it was safe, as neither patient suffered side effects.
There are a number of reasons for which human umbilical cord tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells may provide the benefits that these researchers observed. For instance, unlike other stem cell types, these cells have the ability to differentiate into a number of different types of cells. The results of other studies suggest that these stem cells may help with this lower back condition by altering cell activity such that less inflammation occurs.
Going forward, researchers will need to replicate the findings of this study to show that the positive effects of human umbilical cord tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells in chronic discogenic low back pain extends to the general patient population. Further, as the mechanism by which these cells may improve the condition is not clear, research that helps to elucidate the way these cells confer their benefits will also help in the development of relevant therapeutic interventions.
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Pang, X, Yang, H, & Peng, B (2014). Human umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cell transplantation for the treatment of chronic discogenic low back pain. Pain Physician. 17: E525-530.