Health Beat: Stem cells to the rescue: Oh, my back!

Health Beat: Stem cells to the rescue: Oh, my back!

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - One in three people in the U.S. suffers with chronic pain. It affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. Non-invasive treatments in the past have been limited, but now stem cells could hold the key to the future of pain management.

Bobby Sydnor and his band have something to sing about. Sydnor may have found the answer to his debilitating pain from a motorcycle accident that nearly crushed his spine 40 years ago, leaving him with three degenerative discs.

"It's just excruciating. I remember sometimes crawling to the bathroom," Sydnor said.

Now, thanks to a cutting edge therapy, the bonsai enthusiast is finally getting some relief without surgery.

"It really has the potential to change the disease state, instead of just treating the symptoms," said Dr. Tory L. McJunkin, principal investigator at Arizona Pain Specialists.

McJunkin is involved in a multi-center clinical trial that's using stem cells to regenerate discs in the spine.  

"They have the ability to change and to regrow that tissue until it's a normal tissue," McJunkin said.

Preclinical studies on sheep showed their discs were regenerated

"The treated disc looks exactly the same, you can't tell a difference at all and the untreated disc is very degenerative, very black," McJunkin said.

Full human trial results will not be available until later this year, but in early data, 71 percent of patients who received a low dose of stem cells showed a significant reduction in low back pain and improvement in function, compared with 20 percent of patients in the control group.

Now, two years into the study, Sydnor said he's definitely feeling a difference and can't wait for what's next.

"I'm thankful for that, truly," Sydnor said.

Fifteen sites across the country are conducting the trials. Full results from the phase two trial are expected in the third quarter of this year. The stem cells do not come from human embryos. Instead, they're harvested from healthy adult donors.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary

DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Tory L. McJunkin about managing back pain

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