Can we cure back pain in the future?

by YPU Admin on September 21, 2017. Tags: Engineering, masters, medicine, and STEM

Introduction

Hey, my name is Farah Farzana and I am a medical student at the University of Manchester. Last year after I completed my third year, I decided to take a year out of medicine to do a Masters in Research degree in Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine.  This is known as an intercalated degree, that many medics opt to do if they have further interests in research or any subject in general.  After completing this Masters, I will go back to medical school to complete my final remaining two years and hopefully graduate and become a doctor.

I never imagined or really anticipated during the first few years of Medicine, that I have any interest in research. To be honest, I was always scared by the prospect of going into research and imagined it to be pretty intense and hard. However during my third year I started becoming more interested in regenerative medicine, especially cell based therapies and the potential of regenerating tissues. The growing area of research that focuses of regenerating damaged organs or tissues, so in effect you are giving them a new life every time they are damaged intrigued me. So I decided to look into regenerating the structures within our spines known as the intervertebral discs.



In Depth

What is the intervertebral disc and how does it cause back pain?

The intervertebral discs are structures that make up our spine, and helps in overall mobility. With progressive age the spine goes through trauma and increase pressure due to many factors such as obesity, because of which these discs slowly starts to breakdown gradually. This causes severe pain and discomfort for suffers and is known to be one of the major causes of back pain. The pain occurs mainly because the discs are no longer mobile enough to support our range of movements, such as twisting and turning or even sitting which puts pressure on our spine. It is estimated that approximately 60-80% of people will at some point in their lifetime experience back pain. Despite the condition not being life threatening, it imposes a huge economic burden on our health care system, as well as being one of the foremost causes of disability due to chronic pain between the ages of 45 and 65 worldwide. Current treatments are costly and only offers symptomatic relief for the patients and most treatment available are a temporary fix to the underlying problem. Therefore research is now focussing on understanding the disease process itself of why the breakdown of the discs occurs and what cells are involved in such disease. Identifying the exact cells involved in the process that leads to breakdown of the discs will allow researchers to target such cells and stop them from causing the breakdown.

What does my research focus on?

Researchers have discovered that some cells act to maintain the discs health, which can be also targeted to restore the damaged disc. My research is looking to find out more about the types of cells present within the innermost layer of the disc. Some cells within this layer of the disc have the ability to stimulate rejuvenation of the damaged disc, when given signals. These findings of how these cells function and what signals they need to remodel the damaged disc will further guide upcoming research that will look at developing treatments by manipulating such cells to regenerate the discs. Such treatments will target the underlying disease itself in order to give patients suffering from back pain a permanent cure to back pain caused with progressive age. Such discovery in the future can even lead to developing treatments that can potentially cure back pain forever and change millions of lives.

Going Further

I made a video on studying medicine and how it is like to be a medical student, if you would like to have a look:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LgGrc6182g

This research is a hot topic now and we even managed to somehow feature on the daily mail a few years back!

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1267326/Growing-new-disc-help-relieve-pain.html

Feature on medical news today about future and techniques of regenerating the spine:

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263496.php

Interested in studying medicine here is a good website to look at:

https://www.bma.org.uk/advice/career/studying-medicine/becoming-a-doctor/introduction

Interested in becoming a scientist? Look at this website for a step by step explanation:

http://study.com/articles/How_to_Become_a_Biological_Scientist_Education_and_Career_Roadmap.html

A detailed scientific paper explaining disc degeneration and processes of regeneration:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3008962/


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