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Non-Invasive Method Developed For Diagnosing Painful Back Condition

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A new imaging technique has been developed to help diagnose intervertebral disc degeneration, which causes low back pain.

Researchers in the United States used magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, to identify biomarkers that could indicate whether patients have the degenerative back condition. They say that this could provide a non-invasive diagnostic approach to intervertebral disc degeneration.

Biomarkers are certain substances in the body, such as proteins or fluids, that can indicate specific health conditions. In an article in the journal Magnetic Resonance in Medicine, the scientists explained that low pH is associated with intervertebral disc-generated low back pain and they wanted to develop an in vivo pH level-dependent MRI method for identifying the exact disc that is the source of pain, without the need to inject a contrast agent or non-toxic dye into patients´ spinal discs.

The approach has been tested on patients and in the laboratory, enabling investigators to pinpoint the origin of pain and monitor the progression of each patient´s condition.

“By understanding where the source of pain comes from, physicians can better utilize surgical and non-surgical treatments to help patients live a more normal lifestyle,” commented Hyun Bae, MD, medical director of orthopedic spine surgery and director of spine education, and co-investigator of the study.

In the future the scientists hope to provide targeted, stem cell-based therapies to patients who have the condition.

A grant to support development of the technique was provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to an interdisciplinary research team in the Cedars-Sinai Biomedical Imaging Research Institute, Department of Biomedical Sciences, Regenerative Medicine Institute and Department of Surgery.