A doctor here is injecting the cells of knee cartilage from young donors directly into the spinal discs of people with back pain to see if it will regenerate the aging discs that may be causing the pain.
Dr. Bradly Goodman at Alabama Orthopedic, Spine & Sports Medicine Associates is leading the only Alabama study site, part of a national clinical trial, to evaluate a biological agent called NuQu, made up of young cartilage cells.
“What’s exciting about this is it’s getting down to the cellular level and regenerating tissue,” said Goodman, a doctor who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation.
Nearly everyone, as they age, suffers from some degree of degeneration of their spinal discs, Goodman said. The discs gradually lose their ability to act as shock absorbers between the spine’s vertebra. Because spinal discs have poor blood supply, regeneration is a challenge in a part of the body designed for stability and mobility, he said.
“We are asking a lot of the cells we inject to allow them to survive,” he said.
Back pain is still a mystery in many regards, Goodman said. Doctors don’t know why some people with degenerative discs have persistent pain and others do not. But the NuQu treatment is exciting because it addresses what could be considered the key to the problem — the discs.
“To make the disc go back to normal is certainly appealing from a biologic perspective,” he said.
Current therapies for back pain include surgery, anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy and injections of cortisone and/or anesthetic agents.
The NuQu procedure takes place in an outpatient surgery center with some light sedation. An x-ray machine helps the doctor guide a thin needle into the disc to inject the knee cartilage cells. The patient can go home about an hour later.
Those interested in participating in the study can call Alabama Orthopedic, Spine & Sports Medicine Associates at 205-833-2228 or call 855-893-NuQu (6878).
Participants may receive either an injection of NuQu or sterile saline solution as a placebo.
Participants may qualify if they are at least 21, have had back pain for six months or more, are not severely overweight and never had lower back surgery.