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Jefferson researchers find stem cells in degenerating spinal discs, potential for repair
Date:10/31/2007

(PHILADELPHIA) Orthopedic researchers at Jefferson Medical College have for the first time found stem cells in the intervertebral discs of the human spine, suggesting that such cells might someday be used to help repair degenerating discs and remedy lower back and neck pain.

Reporting November 1, 2007 in the journal Spine, a team led by Makarand Risbud, Ph.D., and Irving Shapiro, Ph.D., at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, have found stem cells in both degenerated adult human discs and in discs of animals.

Many people suffer from lower back pain, and treatment ranges from painkillers such as acetominophen to medical procedures, such as fusing vertebrae. The combined annual costs for treatment of back pain and disc disease is approximately $100 billion a year and a major cause of lost work in the United States.

According to Dr. Shapiro, as the discs in the spine degenerate, cells are lost and the ability to produce water-binding molecules called proteoglycans is decreased. The water absorbs forces on the spine, essentially serving as shock absorbers. Losing proteoglycans can result in damage to the disc, and sometimes, pain.

It would be wonderful if we could get the cells in the intervertebral disc to regenerate or increase the amount of proteoglycans that they synthesize, he says. That way we could regenerate the shock-absorbing capabilities of the spine.

Dr. Risbud, an assistant professor of Orthopedic Surgery, and Dr. Shapiro, who is professor of Orthopedic Surgery, both at Jefferson Medical College, and their co-workers asked if it was possible to regenerate proteoglycans using adult stem cells. Federal regulations prevent them from using embryonic stem cells.

Dr. Risbud built the study around the observation that while the tissue that he could isolate from the disc was no longer binding water, the tissue still might contain dormant stem cells. He thought t
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Contact: Steve Benowitz
steven.benowitz@jefferson.edu
215-955-5291
Thomas Jefferson University
Source:Eurekalert

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