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Stem Cells Could Be Key To Back Pain Relief

MCKINNEY (CBSDFW.COM) - If you have ever dealt with back pain, then you know how quickly it can take over your life. But some North Texans are discovering that tiny cells in their own bodies could be key to long-lasting relief.

A simple walk on a beautiful day is not something that Kim Ferracioli takes for granted, as the McKinney resident has been dealing with debilitating back pain for years due to a bad disk in her lower spine. "It was so painful," she said. "Everytime I would stand up or sit too long, it was just a horrible pinching feeling."

When steroid injections, physical therapy and a minimally-invasive surgery actually made the pain worse, Ferracioli decided to try a new therapy that is revolutionizing the way that doctors treat spinal injuries.

"We're using your stem cells, which decreases the rate for complications," explained Dr. Rob Dickerman, a neurosurgeon and one of a few doctors in the country using a patient's own stem cells to actually grow new bones from scratch. "We can remove a disk and put them between the bones of the spine, and it'll stimulate a fusion."

Dickerman removes stem cells from a patient's hip and places them in a disk-like carrier. Once implanted into the patient's spine, within three months, the stem cells begin to grow into new bone where the damaged disk was removed.

"There was an automatic difference," said Ferracioli about the procedure. "I could get up out of chairs. I didn't need the cane anymore."

Dickerman said that the success of these procedures are just the first steps for stem cell use in the spine. He hopes that they will soon be able to treat more serious injuries. "If we can tweak these cells," Dickerman explained, "to make it beneficial to these patients that for the most part have irreparable injuries, that would just be a huge advance in science."

Research is already underway in several labs around the world, transplanting a patient's own stem cells to repair spinal cord injuries and even traumatic brain injuries. Dickerman hopes to see these treatments hit the mainstream within the next few years.

In the meantime, Ferracioli said that this new procedure is the only thing that gave her life back. "I had to literally pull this back leg up the stairs," Ferracioli recalled. "Now, I can just go -- no pain!"

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