In an effort to better understand these debilitating and painful conditions, Erwin established a multi-disciplinary disc biology research group that brings neurosurgery, rheumatology and cellular and molecular biology disciplines together. Dr. Erwin and his team have isolated notochordal and adult stem cells within the intervertebral disc that thrive in low oxygen conditions. Stem cells have the ability to regenerate and differentiate to become specialized cell types such as cartilage, bone, fat and other types of tissue-specific cells. Preliminary investigation by the team has determined that stem cells obtained from the intervertebral disc are capable of differentiating into nerve cells. They have also recently determined that within the laboratory setting they can halt the death of disc cells and preserve their function; something that was thought to be impossible.
The work is still preliminary in the laboratory focusing upon small animals however if successful a treatment for spinal cord injuries and disc degeneration could mean that a patient’s own cells could be used for their treatment-true personalized medicine. The thinking is that a patient’s own stem cells would be extracted in the event of disc injury/surgery and be assigned for a certain purpose such as regeneration of nerves or discs and then introduced back into the body where repair is required. Science is getting closer, with the potential for available therapies sooner than one might think.
This research strongly points to the development of a novel cellular/molecular treatment for the principal underlying problem with these conditions-increased viability of cells and a rescue of the cellular environment. Quality of life for patients has the potential to significantly improve with increased function and less pain and possibly even regeneration of injured/diseased tissues.
Dr. Erwin, Chiropractor since 1984, witnesses the impact these conditions have on his patients at his private practice and through the Spine Clinic at Toronto Western Hospital on a weekly basis. He is a professor in the Department of Surgery, Divisions of Orthopaedic and Neurological Surgery at the University of Toronto and Toronto Western Hospital. In 2004 he obtained his PhD from the University of Toronto and has since published a number of peer-reviewed research papers that have garnered significant awards from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Canadian Arthritis Network and AO-Spine North America and AO-Spine International.
Through his research, Dr. Erwin provides renewed hope for patients who have impaired function because of spine injuries or degenerative changes. For more information on Dr. Erwin’s research, visit the Canadian Chiropractic Research Foundation (CCRF) website: www.canadianchiropracticresearchfoundation.com