Removing a cervical disc relieves pain by reducing friction between the vertebrae and/or nerve compression. Following surgery, spinal fusion is employed to remedy degenerative disc disease: a condition where the cushioning cartilage has worn away, leaving bone to rub against bone. Other conditions where this technique is employed include herniated discs, where the discs pinches nerves in the spinal column.
According to Kim, "We hope that this investigational procedure eventually will help those who undergo spinal fusion in the back as well as in the neck. And the knowledge gained about stem cells also will be applied in the near future to treat without surgery those suffering from back pain."
In the surgery, called an anterior cervical discectomy, a cervical disc or multiple discs are taken out of the patient through an incision made in the front of the neck. The investigational stem cell therapy is then applied to promote fusion of the vertebrae across the space created by the disc removal
The stem cells are taken from a healthy single adult donor’s bone marrow, and as a result, remain very homogeneous. They are then grown in culture to high concentrations with only a minimal chance for rejection by the recipient. In about 8 to 35 percent of patients, adequate spinal fusion fails to occur, and in up 60 percent of patients with fusion failure persistent pain occurs – often requiring additional surgery.
Co-author Schrot concludes, "A lack of effective new bone growth after spine fusion surgery can be a significant problem, especially in surgeries involving multiple spinal segments. This new technology may help patients grow new bone, and it avoids harvesting a bone graft from the patient's own hip or using bone from a deceased donor."
Currently employed ways to promote spinal fusion include implanting bone tissue from the patient’s hip or a cadaver to encourage bone regrowth as well as implanting bone growth-inducing proteins. However, the FDA has not approved the use of bone morphogenetic proteins for use in cervical spinal fusions. Their use has been found to cause life-threatening complications, especially in the neck region.