For almost any type of health condition or injury, earlier intervention tends to yield better treatment results. But what if we could press a theoretical pause button after a spine injury until a doctor could begin treatment, preventing cell death that often occurs in the wake of significant spinal injuries? According to researchers out of the University of Penn’s School of Medicine, we may be able to do just that in the not so distant future.
The research team discovered that cells in the outer region of our spinal discs became overstressed and started a subpar healing process after certain types of injuries. With the use of a new drug, medical experts may be able to calm this process inside the cells and lead to less problems while the patient seeks further treatment.
How It Works
For their research, the Penn-led medical team created a tissue sample that mimicked that of the outer region of a spinal disc, and they found that when an injury like a slipped disc occurs and pressure is lost, cells in the tissue became disorganized. When viewed in animal models, the repaired tissue did not resemble the normal tissue, and instead it had characteristics of scar tissue. Researchers also noted that programmed cell death, a bodily process known as apoptosis, occurs within 24 hours of injury, meaning this new, less-than-ideal tissue can begin developing within a day of injury.
Armed with this knowledge, researchers turned to a biological inhibitor that was designed to inhibit cell contraction. Essentially, this inhibitor could “relax” the cells from the shock of losing their normal stretched state, and once relaxed, these cells would delay their default healing response. In theory, this would give doctors more time to intervene before subpar tissue began to reform at the site of a disc injury.
“These data show us that treating disc injuries very soon after injury is essential, before this transition in phenotype occurs and scar tissue forms,” said Robert L. Mauck, PhD, a professor of Orthopedic surgery and lead researcher on the study. “This could be done using inhibitors like fasudil applied systematically, or potentially in combination with surgical implantation of biomaterials that are designed to restore the native tissue structure and function.”
The study was conducted using biomaterials and small animal models, so it still has a way to go before it could be considered a viable option for humans, but the initial results are encouraging. It also speaks to the importance of early intervention for significant spinal injuries like a herniated or bulging disc. Don’t just try to push through the pain or live with discomfort, because treatment success is closely tied to how quickly you begin working towards a solution.
So if you’re dealing with back pain or you recently suffered a spine injury, set up an evaluation with Dr. Sinicropi and his team. The window for therapeutic intervention is small, so don’t put off a spine condition for weeks. Contact Dr. Sinicropi’s office today for more information.