A minimally invasive treatment that injects allograft disc tissue into the spine to relieve pain associated with degenerative disc disease provides significant improvement in pain and function over a sustained period, according to new research to be presented at the Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR) annual scientific meeting (4–9 March, Phoenix, USA).
The treatment, known as viable disc allograft supplementation, injects specialised cells and fluid into a patient’s damaged disc. The cells of the injected fluid encourage the cells in the damaged disc to regenerate with healthy tissue.
“The significant improvement in pain and function is promising for patients living with chronic low back pain—a condition that can greatly impact a person’s quality of life,” said lead author Douglas Beall, chief of radiology at Clinical Radiology of Oklahoma (Oklahoma City, USA). “Back pain is the leading cause of limited activity and workplace absenteeism. This treatment may help patients return to a normal activity level for a longer period of time.”
Fifty patients at nine sites participated in this three-year voluntary extension of the randomised control ‘Viable allograft supplemented disc regeneration in the treatment of patients With low back pain’ (VAST) trial, with 46 receiving allograft treatment and four receiving saline. The treatment group was similar to the patient population at the start of the trial in age, sex, race, ethnicity, body mass index and smoking status. Pain levels were evaluated using the visual analogue scale and functionality was measured using the Oswestry Disability Index (ODI).
Sixty percent of patients who received allograft treatment for chronic low back pain reported a greater-than-50% improvement in pain and 70% of patients reported more than a 20-point improvement in their ODI scores. There were no persistent adverse events reported.
Degenerative disc disease is the leading cause of chronic low back pain, one of the world’s most common medical conditions. It occurs when the discs that cushion the spine’s vertebra begin to wear away. Because the discs help to facilitate movement and flexibility, the condition leads to pain and reduced functionality.
“Existing treatment for chronic low back pain due to degenerative disc disease is often ineffective or the effects are short-lived,” said Beall. “We need better treatments for this condition since conservative care is not providing the long-term outcomes that patients deserve. Injectable allograft treatment might be the answer for many people.”
Use of allograft could even help decrease opioid use among patients with chronic low back pain, researchers said, which would be especially meaningful for younger patients who have years of function and quality of life to look forward to. In a media briefing held by SIR ahead of the annual meeting, Beall expanded on this to say that the potential impact of the treatment is “huge”, as this type of chronic back pain is “very common—maybe even one of the most common disease processes known to man”.
The treatment requires no incisions and patients are able to go home on the same day.