Regrowing Spines

RICHMOND, Va. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — About 80 percent of Americans will experience low back pain at some point in their lives. It’s the second most common reason people visit their doctors. Often, these patients have torn or ruptured discs that cause excruciating pain. There’s a new option on the horizon that could re-grow healthy discs in the spine — without surgery.

Rebecca Tirs spends most days curled up in bed with her pal, Jenny Bee, but this isn’t how life has always been for these two. Ten years ago, Tirs was an active 28-year-old … then she was in a roll-over car accident.

“I had a mild traumatic brain injury,” Tirs told Ivanhoe. “I had a fractured pelvis. I had fractured scapula, fractured ribs.”

She also tore two discs in her low back.

“It was just constant, deep down to the bone, severe pain,” Tirs said.

Tirs can barely walk. She had to quit work and give up all her favorite activities.

“I cried all the time,” Tirs said.

Michael DePalma, M.D., medical director at the VCU Spine Center in Richmond, Va., is working on a new way to heal injured backs. As part of a clinical trial, he injects growth factors, found naturally in the body, into damaged discs.

“The growth factors stimulate growth of certain tissue,” Dr. DePalma told Ivanhoe.

The injection includes a growth factor called OP1, a key ingredient in the development of bone and tissue. In animals, the shot helped damaged discs grow back. Doctors say in humans, it could mean no surgery, no damage to surrounding tissue and little downtime.

“This sort of treatment may find its role in treating the disc before they get to a point beyond which only surgery is going to help,” Dr. DePalma added.

Tirs doesn’t know if she received a placebo or the real injection, but she noticed a slight improvement in her pain level.

“Instead of maybe an 8 or a 9, I was a 7,” she said.

She says every bit helps — if it gets her one step closer to her old, vibrant self.

Researchers are still working to see if one injection is enough to ease the pain. Eligible patients have suffered lower back pain for three to six months despite physical therapy and medication.

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