Injecting Fat Into Discs
30 April 2014 | Admin
Surgeons are injecting the spine with fat from patient’s stomachs in ‘promising’ new treatment for chronic back pain
Damaged discs are one of the most common causes of chronic back pain
Surgeons are injecting fat cells into the discs in the spine, damaged discs are one of the most common causes of chronic back pain.
The fat stored around the abdomen is rich in stem cells, which have the ability to develop into different types of tissue, and the theory is that injecting them into the spine will help “repair” the discs. One of the biggest problems seen by chiropractors is degenerative disc disease.
Around one in four people will suffer disc problems at some time in their lives.We are always told the discs work as shock absorbers to cushion the spine during movement, but this is not true in fact they only allow flexibility and prevent the bones of the spine from rubbing together. They are very poor at absorbing “shock”.
The discs continue to degenerate throughout our lives, which means they provide less cushioning .
Chiropractors can control discomfort seen with damaged discs but often the damage is too extensive and then surgical procedures are the last resort, all too often this ends up just fusing the discs together or trying to replace problem discs.
Over recent decades there has been the hunt for the surgical “holy grail” that surgery can replace or repair the discs. To date surgery has not succeeded in this quest.
This latest attempt hopes to stop the body’s immune system rejecting chemicals, that were once used in previous attempts at restoring the cushioning properties of the discs.
The new treatment is different, as it’s designed to repair any damage and protect against future degeneration.It involves first taking fat from the patient’s abdomen using liposuction. This can be done under local anaesthetic. Around 100 millilitres (a fifth of a pint) of fat is removed.
Until recently fat like this was discarded as surgical waste, but it is now known to contain many types of cells, including stem cells.The theory behind this new treatment is that the stem cells will be attracted to areas of damage and start repairing them.
Stem cells can be obtained from bone marrow, too, but extracting them involves an uncomfortable procedure which yields only 5,000 to 60,000 cells.
A 20-minute liposuction session from the abdomen can harvest 40 million cells.The stem cells are extracted from the fat in a laboratory and can then be injected into the damaged discs.
When researchers at the Mayo Clinic in the U.S. tested it on animals, they found that the height of the discs improved by 26 per cent compared with those injected with a placebo.
In addition, the water content of the inner section of the disc improved.A higher water content helps keep the gel-like middle moist and better at cushioning the spine from damage.
The treatment is being tested on 100 patients at three centres in the U.S., including Flower Hospital in Texas.
The patients will be monitored over the next few months. Jane Tadman, from Arthritis Research UK, says stem cells offer ‘a promising source of cells with which to treat degenerative disc disease.
However we should focus on treatment that attempts to maintain a healthy spine in the first place and avoid surgery completely. Even with new surgical techniques surgery will never be the main treatment for the vast amount of low back pain patients to date surgery is only used in a small number of back pain patients and does carry significant risks.