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New Way to Counter Spinal Disc Degeneration

Cedars-Sinai investigators have been able to prevent degeneration of spinal discs in laboratory animals with a new approach that uses stem cell technology.

lower back pain, Cedars-Sinai, research, treatment

A new study by Cedars-Sinai investigators could ultimately lead to better treatments for lower back pain.

Dmitriy Sheyn, Cedars-Sinai, research, lower back pain

Dmitriy Sheyn, PhD

Zulma Gazit, lower back pain, treatment, research

Zulma Gazit, PhD

To solve this problem, the study team first took small samples of dermal fibroblasts— the cells that form the skin's connective tissue and perform repairs—from human subjects. Using stem cell technology, they transformed these cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which can multiply rapidly and morph into different, specialized types of cells.

By exposing these iPSCs to a protein modifier and encapsulating them in a hydrogel that simulated the spinal disc environment, the cells began to mimic notochordal cells. The team used these manufactured cells to treat laboratory pigs that had induced spinal disc degeneration.

After eight weeks, examination of the spinal discs of the treated subjects showed that they appeared to have been protected from further degeneration. The pH level of the discs, an indicator of healthy tissues, also was close to a normal level. In an additional experiment, the engineered cells were injected into immune-compromised laboratory mice to demonstrate that the cells did not induce tumors as a side effect.

"Restoration of disc function and prevention of degeneration remain the ultimate goals of current research," Sheyn said. "In this study, we showed a way to generate functioning notochordal cells from pluripotent cells that have a functional protective and regenerative effect without causing side effects or introducing safety concerns. This outcome has real potential for being the next cell therapy for intervertebral disc degeneration."

Funding: Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the National Institutes of Health under award numbers R01AR066517 and K01AR071512 and by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (DISC1-10643).