The potential role of mesenchymal stem cell therapy for intervertebral disc degeneration: a critical overview.
Low-back pain is the most common health problem for men and women between 20 and 50 years of age, resulting in 13 million doctor visits in the US annually, with significant costs to society in terms of lost time from work and direct and indirect medical expenses. Although the exact origin of most cases of low-back pain remains unknown, it is understood that degenerative damage to the intervertebral disc (IVD) plays a central role in the pathogenic mechanism leading to this disorder. Current treatment modalities for disc-related back pain (selective nerve root blocks, surgical discectomy and fusion) are costly procedures aimed only at alleviating symptoms. Consequently, there is growing interest in the development of novel technologies to repair or regenerate the degenerated IVD. Recently, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have been found to possess the capacity to differentiate into nucleus pulposus-like cells capable of synthesizing a physiological, proteoglycan-rich extracellular matrix characteristic of healthy IVDs.