Human stem cells were recently used at the University of Sydney to treat pain in mice. The study proved there were no lasting side effects and are planning to test this on rodents and pigs before human testing. If the following tests are successful, stem cell treatment poses as a non-addictive alternative to relieving pain without the use of opioids.
Associate Professor Greg Neely, a leader in pain research at the Charles Perkins Centre and the School of Life and Environmental Sciences mentions, “Nerve injury can lead to devastating neuropathic pain and for the majority of patients, there are no effective therapies. This breakthrough means for some of these patients, we could make pain-killing transplants from their own cells, and the cells can then reverse the underlying cause of pain.”
Researchers used human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) extracted from bone marrow to produce pain-killing cells in the lab. They then put them into the spinal cord of mice suffering intense pain. Scientists found these neuron transplants survive long term in the injured spinal cord. This creates an opportunity for synaptic integration for effective pain treatment.
The development of iPSC won a Nobel Prize in 2012 and for this study, stem cells were taken from human blood samples.
“Because we can pick where we put our pain-killing neurons, we can target only the parts of the body that are in pain. This means our approach can have fewer side effects,” adds John Manion, a Ph.D. student and lead author of the study.
Lack of effective pain treatment has grown into seeking management alternatives in opioids. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, more than two million Americans currently abuse or are dependent on opioids.
With the opioid epidemic claiming the lives of many and affecting families, it’s exciting to see non-addictive and less expensive alternatives on the rise.
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