Stem cell treatment for scoliosis

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
June 2, 2008 5:42:25 PM PDT
There is an exciting new treatment for scoliosis that's a lot less painful.Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg.

Three to five children out of every 1,000 are diagnosed with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine that can have serious consequences if the curvature gets worse.

At age 14, Matthew Barmore is already 6-foot-1 with a passion for basketball. But just a few months ago, Matthew's doctor saw a problem, a nearly 50-degree curvature in his spine. The diagnosis - scoliosis.

"Before surgery, the lump on his back caused by the spine curvature was about the span of both my hands together," Matthew's mom, Rebecca Barmore, said.

"If the curve progresses, it can have profound effects on heart and lung function," said Dr. Mark Flood, of Banner Desert Hospital.

Surgery to correct scoliosis used to mean cutting a large piece of bone from the iliac crest in the pelvis, then using it to create a spinal fusion so the curve didn't get worse.

"The problem with taking bone from the iliac crest is it's a significant source of pain, sometimes even permanent pain," Dr. Flood said. "It requires another incision, potential risk of infection, and that bone is gone forever."

But Matthew was able to take advantage of a brand new therapy, recently cleared by the FDA, to repair his spine using stem cells harvested from his own bone marrow.

Used with bone from the bone bank, Matthew's stem cells would act as a sort of catalyst to support the growth of new bone along the spine, and work with permanent screws and rods to fuse it into the correct position.

The surgery reduced Matthew's curvature from nearly 50 degrees to just 15 degrees.

And just three months after surgery, Matthew was already playing one-on-one with twin brother Jordan, getting stronger every day.

"I'm able to shoot, dribble, run, jump," he said. "If this is any indication of what's going to happen, I think it will just get better."

And now, Matthew is dreaming of a very big future.

Scoliosis is much more common girls than boys. Ideopathic scoliosis, scoliosis of unknown cause, is the most common type, usually occurring after age 10. Only some cases require surgery.