A study published in the Biomaterials journal in July 2013, featured Duke University bioengineers that have created a new method of treating pain caused by intervertebral disc disease: injecting repair cells directly into the nucleus pulposus.
What Is the Nucleus Pulposus?
The nucleus pulposus is the shock-absorbing, range-of-motion giving, gel-like material that sits between each of our intervertebral discs. If you are, say, in an auto accident and an MRI shows that you have a herniated disc, that is referring to the nucleus pulposus exiting its normal enclosure (and, if it is exerting any pressure on the spinal cord it will cause pain, numbness, weakness, etc..)
For personal injury lawyers that represent car accident victims – there is an unyielding debate with auto-insurance adjusters – i.e. whether the herniated disc is a result of the auto accident, or a preexisting condition. Because, as we age, our vertebral discs will naturally undergo degenerative changes. The nucleus pulposus will begin to dry out, lose height and may begin to bulge or herniate on its own. The lower back in particular bears significant loads over the course of our lives and, especially among heavier folks/smokers/diabetics, are more likely to exhibit these degenerative conditions.
Prior research has already shown that injecting nucleus pulposus cells into a partially-degenerated disc can delay further degenerative changes. But this method has proven mostly ineffective (the cells become unstable or do not remain in place), which is partially why the practice is not common.
What The Intervertebral Disc Study Shows
Duke researchers have developed an injection cocktail of these reparative cells along with other biomaterials, including a certain protein (found in young nucleus pulposus cells called laminin), which has shown significant preliminary success. The concoction is injected into the degenerated nucleus pulposus, in a liquid form. Then, after 5 minutes, the protein beings to solidify the cells into a gel-like substance. After 20 minutes, the material sets and stays put. After 14 days, significantly more of the injected cells stayed in place compared to the previous method.
If further trials and developments prove to be successful, this type of cell therapy could conceivably bring much needed pain relief (reducing dependence on prescription pain killers), remove restrictions, enhance mobility, and improve the quality of life for millions.
Jason Neufeld is a personal injury car-accident lawyer with Neufeld, Kleinberg & Pinkiert, PA in Miami, Florida. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.