Cedars-Sinai receives $2 million CIRM grant to combat lower back pain

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Investigators at Cedars-Sinai have received a $2 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to develop a new cell therapy that helps improve quality of life for patients with degenerated discs and chronic lower back pain.

Dmitriy Sheyn, PhD, assistant professor in the departments of Orthopaedics, Surgery and Biomedical Sciences at Cedars-Sinai leads this new project in collaboration with Debiao Li, PhD, director of the Biomedical Imaging Research Institute and professor of Biomedical Sciences and Imaging at Cedars-Sinai; and Hyun Bae, MD, professor of Orthopaedics and co-medical director of Spine Education at Cedars-Sinai.

"We are extremely grateful for CIRM's support," said Li, who also holds the Karl Storz Chair in Minimally Invasive Surgery in honor of Dr. George Berci. "We are committed to finding a better way to treat the millions of people who suffer from this painful condition and medical imaging can play an important role."

The team of investigators, which includes biomaterials experts, imaging experts, pain management experts and spine surgeons, hopes the research will lead to the development of a novel injectable therapeutic for back pain and intervertebral disc degeneration, which is the most common cause of lower back pain.

There is an urgent need for a long-lasting stem cell therapy that targets the underlying pathogenesis of intervertebral disc degeneration. The goal is to have an off-the-shelf treatment accessible to different population groups suffering from this type of pain."

Dmitriy Sheyn, PhD, Assistant Professor, Departments of Orthopaedics, Surgery and Biomedical Sciences, Cedars-Sinai

Lower back pain is one of the most common conditions that eventually lead to surgical interventions, chronic pain and use of opioids in the United States. At least 80% of the adult population is suffering from lower back pain, and 40% of these cases originate in intervertebral disc degeneration.

"Once degeneration cascade starts, it is very difficult to slow it down or reverse it," said Bae. "This award will help propel us into the next phase of research, where we hope to develop a therapy that can one day be widely available, cost-effective and accessible to all."

To date, most treatments for this condition are limited to invasive surgical interventions, such as disc replacement and spinal fusion, or pain management that does not address the underlying cause of intervertebral disc degeneration.

Researchers have tried to find ways to fix this problem, such as injecting stem cells, but there have been many challenges with this approach.

To help combat this problem, the team will be testing a new method using a type of cell called iPSC-derived notochordal cells that are delivered in a special microgel. The team will combine the treatment and MRI technology to develop and optimize the stem cell-loaded microgel component and to test it in large animals.

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