Study Examines How Stem Cells Can Relieve Neuropathic Pain

Patients with neuropathic pain have had little to no relief by undergoing conventional pain treatments — but that doesn’t mean help isn’t on its way. 

Duke University researchers found that stem cell injections from bone marrow have the potential to relieve chronic pain caused by nerve damage of type 2 diabetes, surgical amputation, chemotherapy and other conditions.

Ru-Rong Ji, a professor at Duke University Medical Center’s Department of Anesthesiology and Neurobiology, told Clinical Pain Advisor that neuropathic pain is more often than not resistant to opioids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are considered to be traditional inflammatory pain treatments.

Published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the report concluded that the study’s findings could additionally advance cell-based therapies in chronic pain conditions, lower back pain and spinal cord injuries. 

The team treated mice suffering from nerve damage by injecting them with bone marrow stromal cells (BMSCs). This kind of stem cell is known to “produce an array of healing factors and can be coaxed into forming most other types of cells in the body.”

After monitoring levels of anti-inflammatory molecules typically linked to pain, researchers learned that transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) was present in higher amounts in the spinal fluid of the stem cell-treated animals. This protein “can potently inhibit pain,” he said. 

Engineering BMSCs so that they can produce more TGF-β is the next step, Ji said. 


1. Chen G, et al. J. Clin. Invest. 2015; doi: 10.1172/JCI80883.