Researchers review the evidence from animal studies suggesting that stem cell transplants are a beneficial treatment for degenerative disc disease. This is a treatment that has been available via medical tourism for some years now, though it is still only just entering clinical trials in the US:
Stem cell transplant was viable and effective in halting or reversing degenerative disc disease of the spine, a meta-analysis of animal studies showed, in a development expected to open up research in humans. Recent developments in stem cell research have made it possible to assess its effect on intervertebral disc (IVD) height. Not only did disc height increase, but stem cell transplant also increased disc water content and improved appropriate gene expression. "These exciting developments place us in a position to prepare for translation of stem cell therapy for degenerative disc disease into clinical trials."
The increase in disc height was due to restoration in the transplant group of the nucleus pulposus structure, which refers to the jelly-like substance in the disc, and an increased amount of water content, which is critical for the appropriate function of the disc as a cushion for the spinal column. What they found was an over 23.6% increase in the disc height index in the transplant group compared with the placebo group. None of the 6 studies showed a decrease of the disc height index in the transplant group. Increases in the disc height index were statistically significant in all individual studies.
"A hallmark of IVD degenerative disease is its poor self-repair capacity secondary to the loss of IVD cells. However, current available treatments fail to address the loss of cells and cellular functions. In fact, many invasive treatments further damage the disc, causing further degeneration in the diseased level or adjacent levels. The goal of tissue engineering using stem cells is to restore the normal function and motion of the diseased human spine."