Stem cell Therapy for Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease is emerging as a new hope for the treatment of cervical degenerative disc disease. Since an increasing number of doctors are embracing this new technique, it has the potential to replace the conventional treatment modules for degenerative disc disease.

Mesenchymal stem cells

Vertebral degeneration is one of the major causes of disability and morbidity among the older population.

Moreover, it is the most frequent cause of low back pain, pain around the neck, as well as numbness and weakness in the limbs.

The most common sites of degeneration are cervical and lumbar discs. Since cervical vertebrae correspond to the neck, therefore, cervical degeneration is by far more dangerous.

Cervical nerve injury might affect the motor and sensory sensation of the whole body below the collar. From gut health to sexual health, everything would involve if cervical degeneration occurs.

In addition to that, the pain may radiate to arms and legs, which further deteriorates the living standards.

What is degenerative cervical disc disease?

Although it is called a disease, in reality, degenerative disc disease is an age-related progressive medical condition that involves the spine. It significantly restricts movements and flexibility of the spine.

Around 40 % of people in the USA aged 40 to 59 years are suffering from some sort of degenerative disc disease. Nevertheless, the number is over 80% for the people who crossed their 70. The situation is much worse in developing countries.

Human vertebral column

The human spine consists of 33 vertebrae which are connected by a less stable intervertebral disc. The discs made up of connective tissues and water. They act as shock absorbers and facilitates movements.

At birth, 80% of disc components are water. However, water gradually decreases with age. As a result, the discs become thinner and weak.

In some instances, the soft inner core of the disc bulge outwards that cause compression and injury to vertebral facets and nerve roots.

Consequently, a person feels pain in the surrounding area and along with the distribution of the nerves.

Most of the people face disc breakdown over time, but everyone does not experience pain. If the damaged discs are the reason for someone is hurting, the person has degenerative disc disease.

Degeneration may affect cervical, lumbar or other groups of vertebrae.

Causes of degenerative disc disease

Degeneration is a complex and multifactorial process, as several factors influence it.

Spinal discs made up of a sturdy outer wall called anulus fibrosus and a soft inner core named nucleus pulposus. They lack blood supply therefore, they get nutrition by diffusion from nearby structures.

The nucleus pulposus is located in the center of the disc and contains large volumes of water. That enables it to absorb all the mechanical stresses that happen due to everyday movements and distribute throughout the spine. Thus it is responsible for cushioning and flexibility of the spine.

However, over the years, the discs slowly dry out and do not get adequate nutrition. As a result, they lose heights and flexibility. Which in turn causes a gradual collapse of the spinal column and narrows the gaps between vertebrae.

Furthermore, pro-inflammatory substances such as interleukins and tumor necrotizing factors gradually accumulate in the area. Which further destabilize the intervertebral discs.

Subsequently, the discs fail to sustain continuous pressure from day to day movements.

Due to constant force, the outer wall begins to tear and the inner core leaks through the cracks, resulting in herniation of the disc. Afterword, the herniated discs irritate the surrounding nerve roots and adjacent bones that generate pain, numbness, and weakness.

Risk factors of degenerative disc disease

Several external and internal factors accelerate the process.

  • Smoking can trigger disc decay
  • Familial history have an association with degenerative disc disease
  • People who work in weight lifting and twisting are the most vulnerable groups
  • Strains due to sitting for a long time or sedentary lifestyle
  • Even, hormones can trigger degeneration. Evidence shows that menopause and estrogen loss in women are related to disc degeneration.

What are the symptoms of degenerative disc disease

Degenerative disc disease causes acute or chronic pain. Here are some common symptoms of DDD.

  • Pain in the lower back or buttocks or the front of the thigh
  • Pain in the neck and might extend to arms
  • Feels tingling sensation, numbness, even burning sensation in the upper and lower limbs
  • Worsen during bending, lifting or twisting
  • Worsen in sitting position but feels better when moves or walks
  • Comes and goes for a few days to months

While most of the cases the pain appears to be mild to moderate, many people experience sharp or intense pain. However, it entirely depends on the extent of the injury.

What is a stem cell?

Stem cells are cells that have unique properties of converting into other cells type and divide themselves to regenerate and multiply. They play an important rule in repairing damaged tissues if injured.

Stem cell

Here are the types of stem cells.

  • Embryonic stem cells; can transform into any type of cell and provide new cells to the embryo.
  • Adult stem cells; unlike embryonic cells, cannot differentiate to any kind of cell. They are present in every organ to maintain cell growth and healing throughout the whole life. Adult stem cells gaining popularity in numerous medical therapy. Bone marrow transplantation would be the most appropriate example.
  • Induced pluripotent stem cells; are genetically modified and have the potential to convert into any type of cell.
  • Umbilical cord blood; are adult stem cells that are collected from umbilical cord blood.

Additionally, stem cells vary in accordance with the source of collection. Autologous stem cells are that come from own body. Whereas, allogenic stem cells come from another person.

How Stem Cell Therapy For Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease Help

Stem cells are the cornerstone of the body’s healing and renewal. They are older than other cells within the body.

Recent studies show that injecting mesenchymal stem cells into the disc space substantially reduces pain, improves function and delays disc bulging. They aid in reconstructing discs, reduce inflammation, and increase local blood circulation.

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) can transform into all types of mesenchymal tissues, including the cartilage of the intervertebral disc. As a result, MSCs promote extracellular matrix regeneration of the nucleus pulpous. Therefore, it acts as an ideal healer in degenerative cervical disc disease.

Furthermore, they exert anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects that improve regional nutrition and health, resulting in pain relief.

Stem cells type matters

The selection of stem cells needs careful consideration. Unlike embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells cannot differentiate to all types of cells. However, using embryonic cells have controversy. Therefore, discouraged, as it encourages the destruction of an embryo.

Bone marrow, adipose tissue, and blood are the three accessible sites of adult stem cells. It is also possible to take stem cells from umbilical cord blood just after birth.

Autologous stem cells are still the best choice as the patients’ own body sources them. So there are zero risks of rejection by the immune system.

On the other hand, the patient’s own stem cells are equally old as with their entire cells. Consequently, the cells already may have lost their peak regenerative capabilities.

However, regarding this problem, umbilical cord blood provides a perfect solution. Mesenchymal stem cells of umbilical cord blood, are young, incredibly energetic with full healing power.

In addition to that, they are still untouched by the immune system, so there is little chance of rejection. Nevertheless, it needs sophisticated infrastructure to store and distribute umbilical cord blood for future use.

Moreover, a study published from Oxford university press, shows that mesenchymal stem cells are more effective than adipose tissue-derived stem cells.

Therefore, it is hard to determine the ideal sources, for stem cell therapy in degenerative cervical disc disease.

Why and How is Stem Cell Therapy for Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease Use to Treat

The current treatment modalities are conservative management of pain and other symptoms. That includes medications, changing lifestyles, and in severe cases, surgical intervention.

Spinal fusions are the most usual type of surgery that stabilize vertebrae. Unfortunately, spinal surgeries are profoundly complex, costly, and the success rate varies from 50-70 %.

Stem cell therapy, on the other hand, minimally invasive, proving to be effective and does not require a highly professional team.

Therefore, the cost of treatment is substantially lower than the surgery.

Moreover, Stem cells can repair the affected discs or facet joints by improving blood supply, thus preventing nerve irritation and inflammation.

Furthermore, they ensure proper nutrition, rehydrate the discs, thus prevent further disc degeneration and finally improve pain. Therefore, stem cell therapy seems more convenient and logical when conservative treatments fail.

After collecting stem cells, they are harvested in a laboratory and let them replicate there. Few growth factors are added to speed up the multiplication. When a sufficient amount of cells are born, they are injected into the affected vertebral discs under radiographic guidance.

The doctor may repeat the procedures several times over the weeks. On many occasions, they also inject platelet-rich plasma along with stem cells to get better outcomes.

The entire procedures are possible to complete in the outpatient department.

How stem cells are obtained?

While the process of culturing stem cells is more or less the same, the collection sites are different. The most common sources of collecting stem cells are bone marrow and adipose tissues.

The iliac crest of the hip bone is the best suitable site to draw bone marrow. A needle is inserted into the iliac crest under local anesthesia and then marrows are collected into a vial. Afterward, the stem cells are separated and cultured into Petri dishes where they replicate to millions within a few weeks.

The umbilical cord blood is collected just after the birth of a baby and preserved in a perfect environment.

What are the potential risks and benefits of stem cell therapy?

Over the years, the number of untreatable conditions is proliferating.

An increasing number of people have noncommunicable diseases, such as diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, neurodegenerative disease.

All these ailments don’t have any permanent cure. However, stem cell therapy has the potential to cure all these illnesses from inside.

With proper application, they can prevent the cells or mechanisms that are responsible for those diseases.

For example, allogenic bone marrow transplantation is the mainstream treatment option for cancers like leukemia and lymphoma.

Furthermore, in ischemic heart disease, stem cell injection is proving phenomenal. It is possible to regenerate dead heart muscles and improving living standards.

In fact, stem cell therapy for the people who are suffering from cervical degenerative disc disease will surely improve living conditions.

In contrary to that, stem cells may pose a tremendous threat if not properly controlled, that we are still not able to do. It can synthesis accessive amounts of abnormal cells in the site of injection risking cancer development.

Stem cell therapy could create ectopic cells. It means cells injected into the heart created another type of tissue instead of cardiac muscles. Think once that your heart has your hip bone.

Apart from that, Initial procedures of obtaining and injecting cells, risk injury and damage to the local site. Patients might catch an infection that would become devastating.

Therefore, research and study needed to understand how they work and how to use them to minimize complications.

To conclude, despite the promises stem cell therapy offer, it is still in its’ infancy. We do not know yet how it works and how to control it. However, the outcome of stem cell therapy for degenerative cervical disease is promising, and It has the potential to overtake the conventional ideas of treatments.

Categories: disease

Dr Mazharul Islam

Dr. Mazharul Islam acquired a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from Sylhet MAG Osmany Medical College and trained in internal medicine at Dhaka Medical College, Bangladesh. He is a practicing and motivated Medical doctor. He is exclusively working to eliminate superstitious belief from the society

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