Stem Cell Therapy for Back Pain and Clinical Trials 2019 / 2020

If you are looking for information related to stem cell, back pain and clinical trials, you've come to the right place. We have compiled and summarised essential information on back pain and degenerative disc disease below in layman's terms so that you can understand, clearer, less confused, less overwhelmed and make a better informed decision, either for yourself or your loved ones.

When people have back pain, the best thing to do is to look for the best advice from a trusted qualified medical doctor or a family physician. That means going to the doctor to find out the cause (diagnosis) of their back pain and better understand where their back pain is coming from.

You might also be wondering what type of 'doctors' that you should consult. There are many 'healthcare providers' involved in this 'back pain' ecosystem i.e. spine surgeons, radiologists, orthopaedic surgeons, physiotherapists, physical therapists, chiropractors and the list goes on. Back pain is common and therefore it's also a big business opportunity.

So the question is which healthcare professional should you see? You should see a healthcare professional immediately if your back pain is sudden and severe; or after you have tried many self-treatments from your Google or Youtube research and your back pain is still there. As for the type of healthcare provider, you should consult a general practitioner (a licensed and qualified medical doctor) first before you see a spine surgeon or other exotic back pain professionals with tons of Instagram followers. A general practitioner should be able to provide an independent professional opinion on whether there is a need for a referral to other medical specialists.

As a consolation, do take note that most back pain is self-limiting. There are many non-invasive methods to treat back pain and surgery or stem cell therapy are definitely not at the top of the list.

However, stem cell therapy has gained popularity as a promising treatment option for persistent back pain. There is also a lot of confusion due to the overwhelming mixing of credible scientific information and marketing hypes available on the internet.

We have compiled and summarised major clinical trials on back pain and degenerative disc disease below in layman's terms so that you can understand and make a better informed decision.


If you are new to stem cells, check out stem cell basics.

Do take note that back pain problems may arise from several causes and degenerative disc is just one of the many causes of back pain. Therefore, the importance of finding out the cause first before treatment.

Stem Cell Clinical Trials for Back Pain and Degenerative Disc Disease - Update 2020

Clinical trials showing the effectiveness of Stem Cell Injections for Lower Back Pain. Most patients in these studies had significant pain relief. Some patients also revealed reversal of disc degeneration. No patients had any serious complications. Since stem cells are a new development in medicine, there is not an abundance of data. However, the data that exists shows that stem cell injections into the disc results in pain relief and improvement in function.

In this landmark study by Pettine’s group (published in 2016), 26 patients with lower back pain had their lumbar discs injected with stem cells which were extracted from the bone marrow. After 2 years, 21 patients (81%) avoided surgery and had pain reduction of 71%. Their function improved by 64%. Additionally, 40% patients had improvements seen on the follow up MRI’s. No complications were reported.

Centeno’s group followed 2372 patients (published in 2016) who had stem cell injections in various joints for 2.2 years. They reported no serious side effects.

Wu’s group performed a metaanalysis (published in 2018) of all the clinical studies regarding stem cells injection into discs and concluded that, Cell-based therapy is for patients who have discogenic low back pain associated with improved pain relief and Oswestry Disability Index.

Approximately 30 pre-clinical animal studies using stem cells to treat DDD (Degenerative Disc Disease) have been published, with many demonstrating positive outcomes and others reporting no or worsened effects. 

There are 15 spinal cord pathology studies listed on www.clinicaltrials.gov with only two studies completed, four recruiting, four status-unknown, one suspended, two active-not-recruiting, one withdrawn and one terminated. Although some preliminary information has been obtained, much remains to be determined with respect to the best method of stem cell delivery, source of stem cell, numbers of cells to be delivered and the patient selection to receive such therapy. These considerations are common to all potential spine-related stem cell applications.

There are four FDA approved adipose derived stem cell clinical trials at Sanford Health: osteoarthritis of the knee, osteoarthritis of the wrist, rotator cuff tear, and facet joints.

There is a product currently in phase 3 clinical trials at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called Mesoblast. If the results from that study are favourable, then we could have stem cells available for the treatment of degenerative disc disease very soon.

Another clinical trial that has just completed it's recruitment, studied Mesenchymal Precursor Cells (MPCs) in 100 Subjects With Lumbar Back Pain.

The iPSpine project, a pan-European clinical trial was awarded €15 million in 2019 under the Horizon 2020 programme, towards researching a solution for chronic lower back pain. The huge public-private consortium is comprised of 20 partners, and is coordinated by the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the Utrecht University (Netherlands).

The iPSpine consortium was formed to initiate a European-led research effort to identify a future advanced therapeutic strategy that can address the societal need for a radical new treatment of IDD-induced LBP (Intervertebral Disc Degeneration - induced Low Back Pain).

The aim of iPSpine is to investigate and develop a new advanced therapy medicinal product (ATMP) of the future, based on a novel developmental biology approach involving induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) and smart biomaterials.

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