Chronic Back Pain Breakthroughs

If you've ever suffered back pain, you're not alone; about eight in ten Americans will experience it at some point in their lives. But there's hope: Doctors and scientists are exploring new treatments to ease temporary and chronic back pain. Here are a few of the success stories.

By Michael J. Weiss from Reader's Digest | July 2007

When a Patient’s Stem Cells Hold the Cure

Many therapies for degenerative disks treat only the symptoms, not the cause of the back pain. But at England’s University of Manchester, Stephen Richardson, MD, has proposed a radical and promising approach: using the patient’s own stem cells to create a healthy back. Developed in conjunction with German biotechnology company Arthro Kinetics and an English medical charity called the Spinal Foundation, Dr. Richardson’s therapy uses bone marrow cells to regenerate damaged intervertebral disks. Doctors would extract and mix the cells with a special gel that’s based on a type of human collagen and then implant the substance during minimally invasive surgery. The stem cells should then produce new disk tissue with the same properties as the original, but without the damage.

“It’s completely safe because we’re using the patient’s own stem cells,” says Dr. Richardson, who is a researcher in the University of Manchester School of Medicine’s division of regenerative medicine. “The patient could go home the same day of the procedure.”

Researchers hope to start clinical trials after two years and bring a product to market within five years (though others think it will take longer). Dr. Richardson believes the stem cell technique “will revolutionize the treatment of lower back pain” by addressing both cause and symptoms with one therapy, rather than consigning sufferers to a lifetime of pain-killers and physiotherapy.

“What we envision is a one-stop shop for treatment,” he says. “You’d come in, get these cells implanted into your spine, and end up with regenerated new tissue. And that would be it, for life.”

Next: The bone growth drug that targets back pain