Potential New Treatment for Lower Back Pain

Potential New Treatment Lower Back Pain
Anatomical representation of the spine where intervertebral discs are located between the vertebral bones. Photo: CÚRAM

CÚRAM Researchers Find Potential New Treatment for Lower Back Pain

Professor Abhay Pandit and his research team at CÚRAM, the SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices based at NUI Galway, have just published their research into a potential new treatment for lower back pain in the prestigious journal Science Advances. The research team developed a biomaterial-based therapy that can be adapted to an injectable system, which is preferable to surgical intervention.

Lower back pain is the second leading cause of disability worldwide and a common reason for lost work days. Over 48% of Europeans and 80% of US citizens experience lower back pain due to degenerative intervertebral discs (IVDs) at some point in their lives, with associated healthcare expenditure estimated at over $100 billion dollars annually in the US and €5.34 billion in Ireland alone. The prevalence of back pain is set to increase substantially in the coming years due to our ageing population.

Degeneration of the intervertebral disc results in the compression of the spinal nerves and adjacent vertebrae. Recently, as an alternative to the current conservative treatment or surgical interventions for lower back pain, which are non-regenerative in nature, researchers have started to investigate whether regeneration of the inflamed disc is possible.

In the clinic, a substance called hyaluronan (also known as hyaluronic acid) has been shown to facilitate long-term functional improvements by reducing inflammation and pain in a number of clinical conditions, including osteoarthritis surgeries. Hyaluronan is a structural component of tissues in the body, providing strength, lubrication and hydration within the cell’s environment. It also regulates cell movement and behaviour making it an important, active molecule for cell communication.

Lead author of the study, Professor Abhay Pandit from CÚRAM at NUI Galway, said: “The mechanisms by which hyaluronan targets inflammatory pain in disc degeneration had never been assessed. Our research focused on assessing whether a hyaluronan hydrogel has the ability to reduce inflammatory pain and promote disc repair. The results now suggest that it does indeed have a potential therapeutic application for the treatment of back pain associated with disc degeneration.”

Implantation of the hyaluronan hydrogel alleviates pain by favourably modulating cellular processes, suggesting promise as a potential therapy in the treatment of back pain.

Professor Pandit added: “The hyaluronan formulation we have developed can be adapted to an injectable system which is far preferable to surgical intervention in these cases. We are delighted to see this research being acknowledged in a top journal like Science Advances. Our aim at CÚRAM is to radically improve quality of life for patients suffering from chronic illness and this research takes us a step forward toward to doing just that for sufferers of disc degeneration and lower back pain.”

Interest in this technology has already been expressed by CÚRAM’s industry partners and has resulted in further collaborative work in this area.

The multidisciplinary research team working on this project included Professor Abhay Pandit, Professor Peter Dockery, Professor David Finn and Dr Michelle Kilcoyne, with researchers Dr Isma Liza Mohd Isa and Dr Sunny Abbah, based at NUI Galway, as well as Dr Daisuke Sakai from the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Tokai University School of Medicine in Kanagawa, Japan.


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