A new treatment could reduce degeneration of intervertebral discs of the lower back. In the long term, it could prevent many patients from suffering from back pain.
More than 15 million adults in the United States suffer from chronic back pain. These are problems that can be inconvenient or even disabling in everyday life. According to the CDC, back pain causes billions in losses to the economy every year. With increasing age, lower back pain may become more frequent as the degeneration of the discs supporting these vertebrae may increase. A phenomenon that contributes to this health problem.
A new prophylactic treatment to prevent disc degeneration
Although back pain affects many people, there are few treatments. Pain is mainly treated with drugs, pain killers, injections, or surgery. However, these are not suitable for all patients. Some do not meet the criteria for surgery, others find that injections do not help. The final drawback of current treatment is that long-term use of the currently approved drugs is associated with a high risk of side effects. For the preventive treatment of back pain, doctors usually recommend regular exercise or physiotherapy. But researchers may have just found a new preventive solution: a cocktail of drugs that eliminates cellular aging and reduces the degeneration of the discs that cause back pain. Their findings have just been published in the journal Nature Communications.
Senolytics destroy damaged cells
“Once intervertebral discs start to age, there is very little that can be done for recovery,” explains Makarand Risbud, one of the study’s authors. However, our results show that age-related disc degeneration can be mitigated. To do this, the researchers tested a treatment based on a class of molecules called senolytics, which are already known to scientists as anti-aging drugs. How do senolytics work? As we age, senescent cells accumulate in every part of the body. These cells secrete destructive enzymes and inflammatory proteins that affect neighboring cells, which eventually die. The action of senolytic drugs is simple: they remove senescent and damaged cells, which are naturally replaced by new healthy cells.
Protective and preventive effects in the youngest mice
In their experiments, researchers tested two senolytic drugs together: dasatinib and quercetin. They tested the cocktail on young, middle-aged, and old mice, which they injected once a week. The results: the youngest rodents benefited more from the treatment than their older counterparts. Indeed, the young and middle-aged mice showed less disc degeneration and fewer senescent cells in old age than the mice receiving the placebo. In other words, this cocktail of drugs had protective and preventive effects against back problems.
A new preventive approach
“The treatment was most effective when we started treating the mice at a time when these senescent cells were just starting to emerge,” explains Makarand Risbud, “Our results show that when given early, senolytic drugs can slow down disc degeneration. This is a new preventive approach. However, to be effective, this weekly treatment would have to be administered until the mice are old, which in humans would mean years. However, at this stage of their work, the researchers have not observed any adverse long-term side effects. “It is possible that humans need to take the drug for a longer period of time for the treatment to be effective, and our data show that the drugs were well tolerated, at least in mice,” notes Makarand Risbud. In the longer term, the researchers want to test the drug in humans to offer patients a new treatment option.