South Denver Neurosurgery Blog

Stem Cell Research Opens in Denver to Patients with Degenerative Disc Disease

Posted by Ben Guiot on Dec 6, 2017 8:35:17 AM

Green plants and scientific equipment in biology laborotary.jpegStem cell therapy has received increasing amounts of attention in recent years. And now we’re studying how best to use stem cells to treat degenerated discs that cause back pain.

Degenerative disc disease is an age related phenomenon affecting the intervertebral discs. These discs are spacers that act as cushions between the bones of the spine. As we age, the discs dry out, tear and become compressed. Degenerative disc disease can be quite painful, limiting mobility and affecting quality of life.


Symptoms of disc degeneration include:

  • Nagging to severe pain, especially in the lower back, buttocks, and thighs
  • Neck pain that radiates to the arms and hands
  • Pain that gets worse with sitting, bending, lifting, or twisting
  • Pain that comes and goes for days or months
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands or feet

How Stem Cells Help Degenerative Discs

Spinal discs degenerate for a variety of reasons. Cells within the disc can die naturally as we age, but the process is generally exacerbated by genetics, obesity, and smoking.

Traditional treatment for degenerative disc disease includes over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory medications (such as Motrin), physical therapy, spinal mobilization, and surgery.

However, the use of stem cells as a treatment has been rapidly gaining popularity. Stem cells are cells that are not specific to any one body part or function. They have the potential to develop into any type of cell in the body, and they divide and renew quickly, making them ideal for healing.

When injected into the intervertebral discs, stem cells appear to exert an anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effect, relieving pain for patients with degenerative disc disease. Stem cell therapy also may slow continued degeneration. A handful of studies have shown stem cells to be beneficial in treating degenerative disc disease.         

New Stem Cell Study for Degenerative Disc Disease

Beginning in early 2018, South Denver Neurosurgery will be participating with other spine centers around the nation in a new stem cell study, called VAST. (VAST, in case you’re wondering, stands for Viable Allograft Supplemented Disc Regeneration in the Treatment of Patients with Low Back Pain with or without Intervertebral Disc Herniation. And that’s why we refer to it simply as VAST.)

In this study, we will be exploring whether injected stem cells can bring about disc regeneration, and in turn help relieve pain. We are currently recruiting 100 patients for the VAST study, which is being conducted under the supervision of the FDA.

Stem stell study participants will be divided into three groups:

  • Group 1 will receive injections of combination cells.
  • Group 2 will receive placebo injections.
  • Group 3 will receive non-operative care.

Participation in this type of research is an honor and so important. Numerous unregulated stem cell therapies for back pain have popped up in clinics across the country, but this study really takes a look at effectiveness and the science behind why stem cells work. We are one of only a dozen centers in the country that’s been selected to participate in this prestigious trial, and we look forward to the outcome.

If you have lower back pain caused be degenerative disc disease and are interested in participating in the VAST study, make an appointment at South Denver Neurosurgery by calling our offices at 720-996-1260.

Topics: degenerative disc, Denver spine surgeon, denver spine surgery, research study degenerative disc disease