Using stems cells for back pain

November 21, 2008 8:47:42 PM PST
For Judy Odom, even walking the dog is risky. It's all because of back problems. She has two slipped disks, and her backbones have shifted, pinching her spinal cord and causing nerve damage.

"The back of my leg is totally numb," Odom said.

Spinal fusion, surgery to remove the damaged disk and fuse the backbones together, was her only option for ending the pain.

Normally, that's a painful operation with a long recovery. The bone to fuse the vertebrae is usually taken from a patient's own hip.

But Judy chose a new twist - a product that uses adult stem cells to speed the fusion.

In the operating room, Dr. Mark Testaiuti of Coastal Spine reduced the slip in Judy's spine, and removed bone chips to take pressure off the nerves.

To fuse the backbones, he first removed the damaged disk and then put a spacer in to hold the bones apart.

That's where the stem cells come in.

"We packed the stem cells inside the disk space, so that they would see blood and nutrients, and they would start growing bone inside her," Dr. Testaiuti said.

That packing material is an FDA approved product called Trinity. It's a mixture of adult stem cells and crushed bone from a bone bank.

To add further strength, Dr. Testaiuti also placed a flexible rod along the backbones.

All the work was done through just 2 small incisions.

A month later, Judy was back to walking in the park, and taking a trip to the grocery story.

And she isn't taking any medication.

Dr. Testauiti says, for some people, bones don't fuse well, but Judy's progress is on target.

"Some place warm and wonderful," Judy said.

Dr. Testaiuti says the overall recovery time is about 3 months, compared to a year for traditional fusions. And because there's no incision to harvest bone from the hip, infection rates are less.


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