Removal of the cervical disc relieves pain by eliminating friction between the vertebrae and/or nerve compression. Spinal fusion is used following surgery for degenerative disc disease, where the cusioning cartilage has worn away, leaving bone to rub agains bone and herniated discs, where the discs pinch or compress nerves.
"We hope that this investigational procedure eventually will help those who undergo spinal fusion in the back as well as in the neck," said Kim, who also is chief of spinal neurosurgery at UC Davis. "And the knowledge gained about stem cells also will be applied in the near future to treat without surgery those suffering from back pain."
Millions of Americans are affected by spine diseases, with approximately 40 percent of all spinal fusion surgery performed for cervical spinal fusion. Some 230,000 patients are candidates for spinal fusion, with the numbers of potential patients increasing by 2 to 3 percent each year as the nation's population ages.
In the surgery, called an anterior cervical discectomy, a cervical disc or multiple discs are removed via an incision in the front of the neck. The investigational stem cell therapy then is applied to promote fusion of the vertebrae across the space created by the disc removal.
The stem cells are derived from a healthy single adult donor's bone marrow, and thus are very homogenous, Kim said. They are grown in culture to high concentration with minimal chance for rejection by the recipient, he said.
Adequate spinal fusion fails to occur in 8 to 35 percent or more of patients, and persistent pain occurs in up to 60 percent of patients with fusion failure, which often necessitates additional surgery.
"A lack of effective new bone growth after spine fusion surgery can be a significant problem, especially in surgeries involving multiple spinal segments," said Schrot, co-principal investigator for the study. "This new technology may help patients grow new bone, and it avoids harvesting a bone graft from the patient's own hip or using bone from a deceased donor."
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