Are you familiar with the term regenerative medicine? This is a branch of medicine that uses various scientific advancements to advance medical care and, in many cases, heal previously incurable problems such as those in patients with chronic pain. Using our own cells or cells from a donor to heal our bodies sounds like a page out of science fiction, but it is quite clearly the science of today.

The ideas behind regenerative medicine are not new. In fact, many of us don’t realize that this is what is being discussed when we hear doctors talk about bone marrow or organ transplants. Recent highly discussed headlines about face transplants for a few affected individuals have shown how far our knowledge about transplanting tissue has come. These people were not only affected by the chronic pain of their injuries but also the stigma of their appearance. The face transplants have given them a new opportunity to face the world.

However, new advancements are happening every day that continue to push regenerative medicine toward the future. Regenerative medicine for chronic pain may have quite a few long term implications that can help individuals suffering from a variety of conditions.

There are several challenges regarding the treatment of chronic pain with conventional medicine. Because chronic pain isn’t just one condition, there need to be multiple approaches based on the infinite combinations of conditions and injuries that can result in chronic pain. There are multiple degenerative conditions that will continue to worsen over time without treatment. The current treatment options may alleviate pain or temporarily stop symptoms but these conditions cannot be cured based on the information we have today. However, these advancements in regenerative medicine may hold the keys to long term developments with the practice to treat and eventually eliminate some conditions that cause chronic pain.

How can doctors use regenerative medicine for chronic pain?

The Mayo Clinic, a leading researcher and hospital system in the United States, has a dedicated center for the research and practical application of regenerative medicine. They split the discipline into three specific categories:

  • Rejuvenation: The ability to boost the body’s natural ability to heal itself.
  • Replacement: The use of healthy cells, tissues, or organs to replace those that do not function properly in the patient.
  • Regeneration: The use of cell therapy or products to restore tissue or organ function in the body.

However, some aspects of regenerative medicine for chronic pain or other conditions are controversial. Stem cells are a specialized type of cell, found in both adults and human embryos, that have the ability to develop into other cells necessary for the body. Stem cells can be used to grow healthy tissue in lungs, the brain, and even skin. There is still quite a bit of research that needs to be done on stem cells, which may help increase education on their benefits and reduce the concern about their use in medicine.

Studies related to regenerative medicine for chronic pain

In August of 2014 researchers at the University of California – San Diego shared their findings on how human stem cells reacted when used in rats suffering from spinal cord injuries. These human cells were grafted onto the rats and researchers noticed that new cells began to form and extended the entire length of the central nervous system. Their findings indicate that there may be uses in human patients who have spinal cord injuries. Since the cells regenerate in such a way as to connect the entire central nervous system, it may have long-term significance for individuals dealing from chronic pain as a result of this kind of injury.

Around the same time, another team of researchers at the same university have begun to study the safety of stem cell transplants in the spine. A call for participants with a certain type of spinal cord injury has been released and the researchers hope to determine whether or not this type of treatment is safe. This is an essential step of the process before any treatment can be developed and considered effective. Researchers noted that:

“All participants will receive the stem cell injection. The scientists will use a line of human stem cells approved by the U.S. FDA for human trials in patients with chronic traumatic spinal injuries. These cells were previously tested for safety in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).”

While there is always significant new research on the subject of regenerative medicine for chronic pain, it is also important to note that many treatments based on this science are already available. Platelet rich protein injections are among the most common.

What are platelet rich protein injections?

Also known as platelet rich plasma therapy, this is an injection that uses the patient’s own blood to heal their injuries. Because the donor blood comes directly from the patient themselves there is no real risk of transferable infections, allergic reactions, or rejection. Current research shows that it may be an effective way to avoid surgery for certain types of injuries. This procedure is most commonly used for sports injuries such as tendonitis. There have also been some positive results in patients using platelet rich protein injections to treat arthritis.

In the procedure, a small sample of blood is taken and put into a centrifuge to separate the plasma from the red blood cells. Once this process is complete, the remainder is an intense concentration of platelets that offer natural healing properties for the body. The concentrated platelets are then injected into the affected area of the body to promote the healing and regeneration of tissues.

Continued advancements in the areas of regenerative medicine may mean long-term improvements for individuals dealing with the effects of chronic pain conditions. The study of regenerative medicine for chronic pain is a fascinating field to follow as we continuously learn new things every day.

We would like to hear from you: what are your thoughts about the use of regenerative medicine for chronic pain conditions?

Image by US Army Material Command via Flickr

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