We’ve been injecting stem cells into low back discs longer than anyone else on earth. One of our early patients was a young man named Jacob who I’ve come to know well through the years. After a successful first disc stem cell injection in 2009, he recently had two new discs that needed treatment. I was sincerely hoping that our patented disc stem cell procedure could make a difference, but we were in unknown territory. Yesterday, I got an early Christmas present in the form of an e-mail about his progress.
What is a Disc Stem Cell Injection?
Eleven years ago, I came across a research paper showing that a low back disc could be regenerated in a rabbit. It was pretty exciting because we had spent so many years injecting harmful steroids into the low backs of patients and only managed their pain and sciatica. We knew based on existing studies that all of these steroid shots were likely harming the patient as the years wore on, but we had nothing better to offer. So you could see why this paper was a game changer.
In 2005, after going through an approval from an Institutional Review Board (IRB), we began a series of studies to see if injecting stem cells into the discs of low back patients would have the same effect. It took awhile for us to get this right, as our first attempts at regenerating severely degenerated discs with a same day stem cell injections showed little results. Even injecting much more advanced culture expanded stem cells showed little promise, despite what the animal models had shown. Finally, after going back to the drawing board to better understand what science knew about low back disc problems, we honed in on a solution that could reliably get rid of disc bulges. This was an injection into specific regions of the disc using stem cells that were specially cultured to select the portion of the population that could withstand the harsh environment.
Jacob’s Low Back Journey
Jake is a patient I met more than 10 years ago, who injured his low back in a car crash while in his 20s. While treating Jake I watched him mature from a unruly college kid who had just relocated from the Midwest to beautiful Colorado to the head of household. During that time, as he became a working accountant, like clockwork Jake would show up to get his low back injected with epidural steroids. I could help him for awhile, but as our practice advanced to ditching the steroids in select patients in favor of using the growth factors isolated from their own blood platelets, the amount of time between injections lengthened.As Jake got married and began to have kids, he would come in for his annual Regenexx platelet lysate epidural injection for sciatica, usually to get him ready for the 90 hour weeks of tax season.
Then around 2009, the number of these injections he began to need escalated. Feeling comfortable that we had perfected the procedure, I finally offered him a disc stem cell injection. My focus of treatment was a large disc bulge with a tear at L5-S1 that he had developed. With that kind of mechanical pressure on the disc, even the platelet growth factor epidurals couldn’t keep up. He had a disc stem cell injection in late 2009, and by early 2010 was doing great. His post-injection MRI showed that the disc bulge had gone away, so at that point he didn’t need much other than his medical marijuana, a big thing here in the land of the “Rocky Mountain High”. This was fine, as his wife Patty dutifully managed all of this for him.
The Pressure is On…
Earlier this year, a follow-up MRI some 6 years after the first procedure demonstrated that while the injected L5-S1 was doing great, two discs above had developed bulges with tears. Jake had so much confidence in the disc stem cell injection procedure that he decided that he wanted to travel to Grand Cayman to get this done. This was new territory, as we had never injected so many discs in one patient. In addition, I had grown very fond of Jake, his wife, and his family, so I personally felt responsible for making this second procedure successful. However, as every physician knows, despite doing your best sometimes, there are some things you sometimes can’t control.
To add to the pressure, my wife and I ran into Jake and his wife one night on the beach in Cayman. Jake just knew that this was going to work, but I tried as much as I could to provide realistic expectations. In addition, since his narcotic use had escalated with these two new disc problems, he was counting on this procedure to get him off of those nasty drugs. So, the weight on my shoulders got a bit heavier that night.
My Early Christmas Gift
Jake’s back was injected in November around Thanksgiving time. I crossed my fingers and did everything I could to precisely place these special stem cells into the damaged parts of his low back disc. However, since this was new treatment territory, would this work?
Last night at dinner with my family, I got the e-mail below from my assistant, Bridgette:
I spoke with Jake S today, he wanted me to pass along a BIG THANK YOU!! You have fulfilled his Christmas wish. After 7 days, he was able to discontinue the narcotics and there is NO PAIN!! He is able to touch the floor with no pain. He wanted to let you know how awesome you are and you’re a miracle worker!!”
I was ecstatic! At this point in my life, I don’t ask for much for Christmas as I usually just buy what I want, so I’d rather my family give me gifts from the heart-letters, cards, or things they make. While many patients get me gifts, the ones I love the best are when they tell me how our patented procedures have changed their lives. That’s why I’m still a doctor, after being in a position for many years where I really didn’t need to continue to practice medicine. So in a very real way, this was an early Christmas present for me!
The upshot? I’m very happy that Jake and his family this holiday have something to be joyous about and that I was able to come through for him. It’s hard to understand the responsibility we doctor’s personally feel for our patient’s well being. So much so that often the best Christmas presents we can receive are knowing that our best was good enough to change a life!
The Regenexx-C procedure is not approved by the US FDA and is only offered in countries via license where culture expanded autologous cells are permitted via local regulations.