While the United States government, scientists and the religious right continue to fight over the moral issues involved in stem cell research, the United Kingdom has already made strides toward medical cures with stem cells.
Back pain resulting from degenerated, damaged or herniated intervertebral discs (IVD) is now completely curable as a result of stem cell research and its scientific application. This news is huge, especially when one considers the sheer statistics related to back pain.
Back pain is the most common reason Americans visit their primary care physician each year. In fact, more than 26 million Americans between the ages of 20 and 64 experience frequent back pain. With this comes millions of dollars per year spent out-of-pocket on pain killers, prescriptions, surgery, chiropractic and acupuncture treatments and massage therapy. It also accounts for a sizeable portion of the 50 billion annual lost workdays and $3 billion in lost wages.
While most back pain treatments like pills, physical therapies and surgeries try to address the symptoms of pain, inflammation and stiffness, they do nothing to correct the underlying problems that cause the issues in the first place. While it is true that surgery is thought to correct the problem (e.g., herniated disc), the truth is that 80 percent of all back surgeries are unnecessary and do not help the patient in the long run. What’s more, the trauma and scar tissue associated with the surgery often leaves the patient in worse condition than the original back pain.
Is back surgery a waste of time? Well, I used to think that in most cases it was a scam. Now, however, I have changed my mind. While I am still not in favor of surgery per se, I have come to know of a minor surgical procedure developed in the United Kingdom that not only helps the symptoms of back pain associated with disc injury or degeneration, but can actually cure it.
In 2006, Dr. Stephen Richardson of the University of Manchester’s Division of Regenerative Medicine uncovered a method whereby stem cells are used to completely regenerate damaged intervertebral discs (IVD) with no rejection from the patient’s body. In collaboration with Arthro Kinetics — a German biotech company — and the well-respected international Spinal Foundation, Richardson developed the procedure of using cell-based tissue to regenerate IVD at the damage site.
With it he is able to combine the patient’s own mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) with a “naturally occurring collagen gel” that can then be surgically implanted into the affected area. The invasion is minimal and therefore appealing to my sense of holism, as it reduces the chances of post-surgical trauma and side effects.
Richardson found that he was unable to utilize IVD cells to regenerate themselves. However, after years of research, he found that MSCs, which are located in the bone marrow, have the ability to grow into a range of different cell types, including muscle, fat, bone and cartilage. He developed the ability to combine the MSCs with a collagen gel and to then implant the combination into the damaged IVD tissue. Richardson and his team were soon able to see the damaged discs regenerate themselves.
In Richardson’s own words:
“The gel used, produced by Arthro Kinetics, is based on a collagen that is a component of many tissues within the body, a totally natural product that is similar to the gel already used clinically for the treatment of articular cartilage defects. The ability to re-implant this within the body with an arthroscopic procedure — similar to an endoscopy, in which a camera is inserted through a narrow tube into the body — means that there is only a very small scar on the back and the patient could hopefully return home on the same day or the day after the surgery. Once implanted, the differentiated MSCs would produce a new NP [nucleus pulposus] tissue with the same properties as the original and would both treat the underlying cause of the disease and remove the painful symptoms.”
The procedure is finishing clinical trials and will soon be available as a treatment in the UK. The result of such a successful and minimally invasive approach to traumatic back pain treatment is enormous. Billions of dollars will be saved in lost productivity and workdays, pain suffered, pills taken and useless surgeries.
For those suffering back pain as a result of degenerated or damaged intervertebral discs, utilizing your own stem cells to repair your own body is a blessing you may soon experience.
— Dr. Mark Wiley
BBC News http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6196644.stm