Jefferson receives $1.7 million grant to study stem cells in intervertebral discs of the spine

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(PHILADELPHIA) – Scientists at Jefferson Medical College have received a five-year, $1.7 million National Institutes of Health grant funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases to study mechanisms regulating stem cell self-renewal and differentiation with the aim of regenerating diseased and painful intervertebral discs. A previous study by the same group showed that stem cells exist in both animal and human intervertebral discs. This grant will enable the researchers to continue studying the disc cells and determine factors which govern their activities in health and disease.

“Disc degeneration and the associated back pain that goes with it costs the U.S. healthcare industry approximately $100 billion annually,” said Irving M. Shapiro, Ph.D., associate director of Orthopedic Research and the director of the Cell and Tissue Engineering Graduate Program at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson

University. “As a major cause of lost productivity worldwide it is critical that we develop a treatment that will regenerate intervertebral disc structure and function.”

A variety of factors contribute to the degeneration of the intervertebral disc including age, genetics and biomechanical factors. Several surgical procedures are available to pacify the pain associated with the degenerative disc, but the most common procedures often only provide symptomatic relief. No current therapy can completely restore the function of a degenerated disc nor prevent its further deterioration. Historically, investigations of the intervertebral disc have been limited in scope, leading to a lack of understanding of the biology and function of both healthy and diseased tissues.

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