Many clinics now are injecting stem cells harvested from fat into degenerated discs in their patients’ lower backs. The vast majority of the promising research into stem-cell treatment for lower back discs was performed with stem cells harvested from bone marrow and not from fat. A new research study shows that fat stem cells harvested from fat may injure rather than help low back discs.

Adipose stem cells are obtained from a fat liposuction procedure. While they may have some uses, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has declared them to be an illegal drug. Many physicians have ignored the protestations of the FDA, and there is scant research showing that adipose stem cells work as an effective treatment for orthopedic problems. What if these stem cells harvested from fat actually destroyed the discs in your spine?

A study published in the November 12, 2012, issue of Spine Journal reported a big problem: Injecting adipose stem cells into the spine of a patient can cause spinal-cord compression and other damage. A more recent study in the February 15, 2015 issue of European Spine Journal examined attempts to move adipose stem cells from the culture dish, where they looked promising, to an animal model. Despite several attempts at using these stem cells harvested from fat to repair a degenerative disc, the stem cells appeared to cause part of the disc to disintegrate, eroding the top and the bottom of the discs and leading to severe, out-of-control inflammation. The concerned researchers were unable to figure out why this was happening.

What does this mean for patients with pain in the area of their lower back? The research on using bone-marrow stem cells for treating lower back discs is very promising, borne out by a decade of using this procedure on patients. Although early laboratory experiments on adipose stem cells looked somewhat promising, moving from the culture dish to animal models or patients appears to pose potentially serious risks.

“New Research: Fat Stems Cells Bad for Back Discs” first appeared as a post on the Regenexx blog.