• Science Saturday: Could regenerative medicine relieve neck, back pain?

white man in a t-shirt facing a window sitting on a bed holding his neck and back in pain

Mayo Clinic is looking to regenerative medicine as a potential long-term solution for degenerative disk disease that has for years eluded medical science. Millions of people in the U.S. are afflicted with chronic neck and back pain that often comes after years of wear and tear on the spine. Current treatments provide only temporary relief for this common disorder and finding a cure has been a great challenge for researchers.

Wenchun Qu, M.D., Ph.D., a physiatrist and pain specialist at Mayo Clinic in Florida, and director of Regenerative Pain Medicine at the Center for Regenerative Medicine, hypothesizes that therapeutic answers to degenerative disk disease are hidden in mesenchymal stem cells. These adult stem cells have been well-studied and shown to be safe in humans.

"My study in preclinical models showed mesenchymal stem cells are very effective in treating the degenerative disk condition in animals. We have advanced to testing mesenchymal stem cells in large, phase three clinical trials in collaboration with industry sponsors, and we are waiting for the result to be released," says Dr. Qu. "Now we are developing the next generation of mesenchymal stem cells that show the potential to be more powerful in treating the degenerative disk disease."

Mayo Clinic's Center for Regenerative Medicine supports research that advances new regenerative biotherapeutics into the practice to address unmet patient needs. The Connor Group Kids and Community Partners also supported Dr. Qu's research.

The difficulty of treating back, neck pain

Spinal disks are pliable, rubber-like pads made of collagen and proteins that provide a cushion between the bones in the vertebrae. They give the spine its flexibility. As people age, disks may rupture, triggering inflammation that diminishes water molecules. Loss of water causes further deterioration that over time may lead to a collapse of the disk. People with degenerative disk disease may experience sharp pain, stiffness and mobility problems. That may lead to quality of life issues, such as lost work, lower function and restrictions in activities that sometimes affect an entire family.

Read the rest of the article on the Center for Regenerative Medicine blog.


Other Mayo Clinic medical research websites:

Related articles