Cedars-Sinai receives $2.8M NIH grant to develop low-back pain imaging test

Imaging for lower-back pain is often frowned upon because studies show it doesn’t usually lead to improved outcomes. This conventional wisdom may soon change, however, as researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles have received a $2.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop an imaging technique for a painful back condition.

The interdisciplinary research team from the Cedars-Sinai Biomedical Imaging Research Institute, Department of Biomedical Sciences, Regenerative Medicine Institute and Department of Surgery validated the technique in a study published earlier this year in Magnetic Resonance in Medicine.

The technique uses MRI to identify biomarkers that signal a patient is suffering from intervertebral disc degeneration. This in vivo pH level-dependent method does not require exogenous contrast agents, and can pinpoint the origin of pain while also allowing physicians to monitor progression of the condition.

Armed with the imaging technique, the researchers hope a stem cell-based therapeutic will help alleviate pain for patients.

"Our research team is interested in the role of stem cells in this disease and how we can utilize these cells to regenerate the disc and turn it back into a functional tissue," Dan Gazit, PhD, co-principal investigator on the grant and director of the Skeletal Regeneration and Stem Cell Therapy Laboratory in the Department of Surgery, the Skeletal Program in the Regenerative Medicine Institute and the Molecular and Micro Imaging Core Facility, said in a press release. "Using this novel imaging technique, we will be able to evaluate the effect of our future stem cell therapies on back pain."