Stem Cells Can Aid Spinal Disc Repair

A study using a handful of large animals strongly suggests that stem cells transferred from the body's own fat can facilitate the repair of damaged spinal discs. Stem cell treatments appeared to increase disc tissue density, concentration of disc matrix proteins between the disc cells, and disc water content. If clinical studies bear out the results of this research, it could represent a real breakthrough for the more than 300,000 patients undergoing spinal surgery every year.

In the recent experiment, conducted by Cytori Therapeutics Inc. and presented at a meeting of the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society, 12 large animals, each with injuries to three lumbar discs, were divided into three groups. When the experiment got under way six weeks after the disc injuries, one group received so-called adipose (fat)-derived stem and regenerative cells (ADRCs), drawn from each animal's own fatty tissue, in a carrier of hyaluronic acid (HA).

The second group, the control, got hyaluronic acid alone, while the last group received no treatment at all. The researchers evaluated the damaged discs at six and 12 months following treatment and found in the ADRC-treated discs significantly improved matrix hydration, disc density and levels of the disc-specific extracellular matrix proteins known as aggrecan and type II collagen.

Scientists identified healthy ADRCs within the discs by microscopic examination of the tissue, suggesting there's a link between the presence of the transplanted cells and disc repair. "This histologic [tissue] data shows that ADRCs may contribute to the regeneration of the spinal disc and form a healthier, more natural inner-disc space than HA alone," said Jorg Meisel, the director of neurosurgery at the Bergmannstrost Klinik in Germany. Very important for eventual real-world therapies, all treatments with ADRCs produced no inflammation within the disc space.


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