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New treatment could cure back pain with single injection

The pain and misery of a bad back could soon be cured by a routine injection, thanks to a £250,000 funding boost for a Manchester-based research project. A team of medical experts from Central Manchester and Manchester Children’s University Hospitals NHS Trust (CMMC) and the University of Manchester are pioneering a new procedure capable of repairing worn out intervertebral disks – the back’s shock absorbers – with a single injection. The process uses a ‘smart’ gel, which contains stem cells taken from a patient’s bone marrow. When injected into the sufferer, the gel allows new tissue to be generated. The treatment, expected to be a world-first, will avoid the need for lengthy surgery, and could see patients back on their feet within hours of the treatment. The 15-strong research team has been awarded an £250,000 funding boost from a medical foundation in Boston, Massachusetts, a German-based biotechnology company (Arthrokinetics), the North West Development agency and the University of Manchester’s intellectual property company which will allow the project to proceed to its next phase. The team is now optimistic that the first patients could be treated within the next four-five years. Heading up the team is Professor Tony Freemont, consultant pathologist with the Trust and a world-leading expert in osteoarticular pathology. He said: “Back pain costs the UK economy around £10 billion every year, and impairs the quality of life of many thousands of people. Currently, the only way of treating disk degeneration is through major surgery. Typically, a patient will need at least two months off work to recover. “Our goal is to make treatment for this condition quick, simple and effective. Recovery time will be reduced to just a few hours and patients may not even need to stay in hospital overnight. Doctors will be able to treat many more patients each day, leading to a dramatic reduction in waiting lists. To facilitate the research, the University has developed a computer-controlled machine, which mimics the stresses and strains that a human back endures every day. The machine replicates the body temperature and chemical environment of a human being, and can keep human tissue alive for ten weeks at a time, for trial purposes. University of Manchester has been working on the research project for the last seven years, and believes the treatment could be a reality by 2012.