What if a single-dose injection could cure degenerative disk disease, without going under the knife and through the recovery process of spine surgery? Though it sounds too good to be true, pioneering medical company SpinalCyte says not only is it possible, but it’s already being done.
In a recently concluded clinical trial, the company reported that a single injection of fibroblast cells — modified human cells similar to stem cells — resulted in significant improvements in disk height and pain reduction 12 months after the initial shot.
While Houston-based SpinalCyte is not the only company studying the effects of fibroblasts on degenerative disk disease, it’s the only one that has studied their effects on humans. (Scientists at Istanbul University’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation have found success in tests on rabbits.)
Spinal disks are the soft tissue between the vertebrae that act as cushions along the spinal column. When the disks wear out, from injury or age, they cause friction along the spine and often debilitating back pain.
Currently, there are only two treatments for degenerated disks. One is a fusion in which surgeons remove the damaged disk and fuse together the spinal column bones, often after inserting a cage, usually made of titanium, between the vertebrae. The other replaces the disk with one made of metal or synthetic materials. Both of these treatments are costly, require significant down time, and aren’t a foolproof treatment for pain.
According to SpinalCyte CEO Pete O’Heeron, the future of back treatment lies in regenerating human cells.
“SpinalCyte’s fibroblast product, known as CybroCell, is injected into a closed compartment along the spinal column, much like an epidural,” O’Heeron tells Newsmax Health.
O’Heeron says this revolutionary treatment has improved mobility for 80 percent of human trial participants.
“This isn’t taking anything away from stem cells. Stem cells are still another great cell source,” O’Heeron says. “But fibroblasts can provide similar therapeutic benefits while being easier and less expensive to harvest, grow, and maintain.”
For trial participant Manuel Lopez, the difference has been significant.
“The pain that I suffered for the past two years is no longer there,” says Lopez, a resident of San Diego who participated in the CybroCell clinical trial. “The pain is not even 20 percent of what I used to have. People should consider this type of therapy as an alternative to pain medication.”
Orthopedic surgeon Howard An, director of the Spine Fellowship Program at Rush University Medical Center, tells Newsmax Health that stem and fibroblast therapies for disk degeneration and back pain are both well-tolerated and appear to have clinical efficacy.
“The lack of genuine success in the current ‘status quo’ treatment for degenerative disk disease can only be transformed by a leap forward in science, discovery, and pain relief through regeneration,” says An, a principal investigator of a SpinalCyte study of fibroblasts.
SpinalCyte currently has FDA clearance and plans to begin its next phase of human trials in four months, to be completed in about two years.
Although O’Heeron is reluctant to put a price tag on the procedure — which is not yet commercially available — he says it’s a “fraction of the cost of spine surgery.”
“Every day we see sustained improvement in trial participants is a great day for everyone,” O’Heeron says.
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