Can Stem Cells Treat Chronic Pain?

stem cell spinal  cord

What would happen if stem cells were injected via lumbar puncture in a stem cell spinal cord pain injection? There’s a lot going on in stem cell research these days, but much of it is trying to prove what’s already been observed clinically. A recent study out of Duke University caught my attention as it uses Bone Marrow Stem Cells, not to heal a particular injury, but as a treatment for chronic pain.

Bone Marrow Stromal Cells (BMSC’s), otherwise known as Bone Marrow Mesenchymal Stem Cells, are becoming increasingly popular to treat orthopedic injuries. This is the type of stem cells we use as they are capable of repairing and generating bone, cartilage, meniscal tissue and connective tissues like ligaments and tendons.  They also contain contain helpful growth factors, immuno-suppressants, cytokines, proteins and replicate easily. They are to be distinguished from adipose or fat stem cells which have a completely different set of capabilities.

The new study used mice with an identical sciatic nerve injury to study the effect of BMSC’s administered by catheter into the area directly around the spinal cord (intradural) to alleviate pain. To do this they administered IGF β1, an insulin like growth factor known to be present in BMSC, alone, and tested for pain.  They then administered the BMSC itself and tested for pain. The results were that while the IGF β1 administered alone alleviated neuropathic pain for one hour, the BMSC itself alleviated neuropathic pain for 5 weeks! The study also found that the damaged sciatic nerve secreted a chemical called CXCL 12 which helped the stem cells to find the area of injury.

The upshot?  This is new territory and more research needs to be done to evaluate the safety of injecting stem cells into this space between the spinal cord/nerves and the dural covering. It’s important to keep in mind that this was a mouse study and the same results don’t always translate from an animal model to humans.  So, this could be an exciting transformative new application for the treatment of chronic pain, lumbar neuropathic pain and perhaps even spinal cord injury – or a treatment in which the risk vs. benefit profile turns out to be unacceptable. We’ll just need to wait and see…

 

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