Aching Back? Cholesterol Medication Might Help

February 23, 2009,

Back pain, a hallmark of degenerative disc disease, sends millions of people to their doctor. In fact, more than 80 percent of patients who undergo spine surgery do so because of disc degeneration. And part of the answer may be as close as a patient’s medicine cabinet.

In their quest to discover ways to stop or reverse degenerative disc disease, orthopaedic researchers have been removing disc tissue from patients who are having spine surgery and extracting cells from that tissue for cultivation in vitro (a controlled environment outside of a living organism). They then transfer the cells back into the patient. Shu-Hua Yang, MD, PhD, is part of a Taiwanese research team that has discovered that Lovastatin, a cholesterol-lowering medication, helps the differentiation of disc cells in vitro.

Dr. Yang, who is chief of the department of orthopedics at National Taiwan University Hospital, Yun-Lin-Branch, is presenting the group’s findings in the poster “Lovastatin Helps Re-Differentiation of Human Nucleus Pulposus Cells During Monolayer Expansion” during the 55th Annual Meeting of the Orthopaedic Research Society, Feb. 22-25, 2009, in Las Vegas. Dr. Yang is also presenting the results of a related study, “Influences of Age-Related Degeneration on Regenerative Potential of Human Nucleus Pulposus Cells,” at the same meeting. The two studies reveal the findings of a team of researchers from National Taiwan University Hospital.

In one study, the researchers removed nucleus pulposus tissues from six human patients. (Nucleus pulposus is the jelly-like substance in the middle of the spinal disc.) The patients, ages 23 to 29, were undergoing surgery for herniated lumbar discs. Researchers then isolated the nucleus pulposus cells and eventually added Lovastatin, hoping to optimize the properties of the regenerative tissues. They hoped to maximize the expression of collagen II and minimize the expression of collagen I, two proteins involved in facilitating bone formation. They reported the following results:

• After 72 hours, researchers found that the number of nucleus pulposus cells had increased.
• Lovastatin increased the synthesis of collagen II, a protein that makes up moveable joints, and decreased the synthesis of collagen I, a protein that is related to fibrosis (the formation or development of excess fibrous connective tissue).
• Lovastatin had no cytotoxicity (the quality of being toxic) on nucleus pulposus cells.

“Regeneration of the nucleus pulposus tissue in the early stage of intervertebral disc degeneration can theoretically retard or even reverse the degenerative process and possibly regain a healthy intervertebral disc,” says Dr. Yang. “Further studies are needed to determine the potentials of statins for regeneration and repair of degenerative disc disorders.”

In a related study, Dr. Yang and his fellow researchers looked at how the patient’s age affected the suitability of nucleus pulposus tissue for regeneration.

Researchers removed tissue from two groups — adolescent patients (who were undergoing surgery for scoliosis) and adult patients (who were undergoing surgery for herniated discs) — to find out how to manipulate the cells in the healthiest way. The researchers found that the tissue of younger patients was generally more suitable for regeneration than tissue from older patients.

These two studies represent just two of the latest advances in tissue engineering. Spine surgeons at one German institute are already using cells from the discs of human patients for autologous cell transplantation (reimplanting cells back into the same individual the cells came from). Other published studies about disc degeneration have looked at animal cells, instead of human cells.

Degenerative disc disease is one of the leading sources of back and neck pain. Disc degeneration is part of the normal aging of the spine. In this condition, the spinal discs (the pillow-like pads between the bones) lose their cushioning. When this happens, it can cause persistent pain in the lower back, legs, neck or arms. Treatments for pain can include medications and physical therapy. Sometimes surgery is needed if the pain is severe and keeps a person from participating in everyday activities.

Provided by American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Explore further: Lumbar disc degeneration more likely in overweight and obese adults

Related Stories

Lumbar disc degeneration more likely in overweight and obese adults

January 30, 2012
One of the largest studies to investigate lumbar spine disc degeneration found that adults who are overweight or obese were significantly more likely to have disc degeneration than those with a normal body mass index (BMI). ...

Researchers shed new light on predicting spinal disc degeneration

August 4, 2011
About 80% of the active population suffers from low back pain at some point in their lives. In a paper published on August 4th 2011 in PLoS Computational Biology, researchers at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia ...

No pain, no gain: Weight loss, disc disease interventional radiology treatments coming

March 26, 2012
A minimally invasive treatment may target hunger at its source, another uses X-ray visible embolic beads to block arteries to the stomach and suppress hunger and a third explores the use of stem cells to repair vertebral ...

Advancing ways to grow human spinal disc tissue in the lab

July 2, 2015
You're going to shrink today. You did yesterday, and you will again tomorrow. By bedtime every night, you're likely to be about an inch shorter than when you got up. But assuming you sleep lying down, each evening's rest ...

Stem cells from jaw bone help repair damaged cartilage

October 10, 2016
Columbia College of Dental Medicine researchers have identified stem cells that can make new cartilage and repair damaged joints.

In the battle to relieve back aches, researchers create bioengineered spinal disc implants

August 1, 2011
Every year, millions of people contend with lower back and neck discomfort. With intent to ease their pain, Cornell University engineers in Ithaca and doctors at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City have created ...

Recommended for you

Past encounters with the flu shape vaccine response

February 20, 2018
New research on why the influenza vaccine was only modestly effective in recent years shows that immune history with the flu influences a person's response to the vaccine.

Building better tiny kidneys to test drugs and help people avoid dialysis

February 16, 2018
A free online kidney atlas built by USC researchers empowers stem cell scientists everywhere to generate more human-like tiny kidneys for testing new drugs and creating renal replacement therapies.

Expanding Hepatitis C testing to all adults is cost-effective and improves outcomes

February 16, 2018
According to a new study, screening all adults for hepatitis C (HCV) is a cost-effective way to improve clinical outcomes of HCV and identify more infected people compared to current recommendations. Using a simulation model, ...

Study suggests expanded range for emerging tick-borne disease

February 16, 2018
Human cases of Borrelia miyamotoi, a tick-borne infection with some similarities to Lyme disease, were discovered in the eastern United States less than a decade ago. Now new research led by the Yale School of Public Health ...

IFN-mediated immunity to influenza A virus infection influenced by RIPK3 protein

February 15, 2018
Each year, influenza kills half a million people globally with the elderly and very young most often the victims. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 37 children have died in the United States ...

Flu shot only 36 percent effective, making bad year worse (Update)

February 15, 2018
The flu vaccine is doing a poor job protecting older Americans and others against the bug that's causing most illnesses.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

VOR
not rated yet Mar 22, 2009
I wonder if niacinamide could be an alternative to Lovastatin.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.