Everybody knows someone with back pain. It affects 60 to 90 percent of Americans at some point during our lifetimes and is most common in the low back and the neck, the lumber and cervical spine.
Why is the back one of the major areas of pain in the body? What causes our discs to wither?
An international group of orthopedic researchers recently gathered at Jefferson for the 2nd International Spine Research Symposium to examine these – and other – questions.
The gathered specialists will look at the basic science that brings discs together and allows them to fall apart or degenerate and the new science of tissue engineering, using stem cells to repair discs.
“We have more researchers studying the orthopedic spine in this region than just about any other in the country, even New York,” says Irving Shapiro, BDS, PhD, director of Research and Director of the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Graduate Training Program at Jefferson and conference co-chair along with his Jefferson colleague and fellow spine researcher Makarand V. Risbud, PhD.
During the conference, the participants will also take time to honor Dr. Shapiro, who will receive the Philadelphia Spine Research Society Lifetime Achievement Award for his commitment to spine research.
Dr. Shapiro has worked to understand the unique niche conditions of the intervertebral disc.
More recently, spurred on by a bout of lower back pain, Dr. Shapiro found that stem cells exist in the disc, and speculated that they could be used to repopulate the all-important cushiony center of the disk when disc degeneration occurs.
Rather than considering injection of new cells into the disc, Shapiro and Dr. Risbud reported that one way of promoting stem cell proliferation and commitment is to adjust its own internal signaling system. This approach to repopulating the disc is under active investigation.
“Degeneration of the intervertebral disc is a major clinical issue that we hope to understand more completely through this meeting,” says Shapiro.