A review in the Journal of Stem Cell Research & Therapy has summarized an array of studies that demonstrate that a specific type of stem cell – the mesenchymal stem cell – may be beneficial as a therapeutic approach to chronic pain. The authors point to the huge burden of chronic pain. It is estimated that more than 115 people suffer from the condition, which is more than those who suffer from diabetes, stroke, cancer, and coronary heart disease combined.
Chronic pain is also associated with significant losses in productivity. Given how extreme the burden of chronic pain has become, the National Institute of Medicine has suggested that finding effective ways to alleviate chronic pain should become a priority for the nation.
Regenerative medicine has offered an effective way to treat a variety of injuries and diseases, including some that are related to chronic pain. As the term “regenerative medicine” implies, much of the research into the clinical effects of stem cells have shown that they lead to beneficial outcomes by regenerating damaged tissue by replacing that tissue with new cells.
This new review looks at the potential of mesenchymal stem cells to specifically improve chronic pain through the ability of the cells to suppress inflammation. Given that inflammation is a common characteristic of conditions associated with chronic pain, a strategy that addresses this phenomenon could represent an effective way to help those with chronic pain that comes from things like degenerative disc disease and osteoarthritis.
The current approaches to chronic pain are limited in their ability to reduce or control pain, so there is a great need to develop more effective therapies. Research thus far into the potential impact of mesenchymal stem cells on chronic pain has provided promising results regarding effectiveness and safety. Specifically, these stem cells have not been associated with adverse side effects, they lead to the development and growth of healthy tissue, and they appear to provide pain relief. Future research will help to clarify the mechanisms by which mesenchymal stem cells may confer their benefits to those with chronic pain and provide new insights into how can best use these cells to help chronic pain sufferers.
Reference: Waterman, R.S. & Betancourt, A.M. (2011). Treating chronic pain with mesenchymal stem cells: A therapeutic approach worthy of continued investigation. Journal of Stem Cell Research & Therapy, S2, 1-5.