UCSF: Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy could reduce inflammation in disc degeneration

Physio-Stim Osteogenesis Stimulator--Courtesy of Orthofix

Medical device player Orthofix ($OFIX) hopes that a new preclinical study of its pulsed electromagnetic field therapy could point to a minimally invasive treatment for intervertebral disc degeneration. This is one of the most common causes of chronic low back pain that commonly occurs as part of aging as the usually rubbery discs lose integrity.

Current options to treat degenerative disc disease (DDD) are largely confined to oral pain medication, injected corticosteroid or nerve blocks as well as invasive surgery such as spinal fusion. While the first two can have inconsistent results that tend to fade over time as the condition worsens with age, the latter has mixed outcomes because it can destabilize the spine thereby resulting in further injury.

Researchers published results of a cellular study on how pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy affects gene expression of intervertebral discs (IVD) cells in normal and inflammatory environments in The Spine Journal. They found that stimulated cells had reduced pro-inflammatory markers and a decrease in degeneration of the cellular matrix as compared to a control group.

"The results of this study are clinically important as they demonstrate PEMF has disease modifying activities that may, in the future, provide a minimally-invasive solution for patients living with painful degenerative disc disease," Dr. Jeffrey Lotz, professor and vice chair of research at the UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

He continued, "While an important first step, more studies are needed to determine if this is indeed a viable option for managing inflammation and impaired healing associated with painful intervertebral discs."

The cells were first stimulated to induce the inflammatory environment associated with degenerative disc disease. Then they were exposed to Orthofix Physio-Stim PEMF for four hours daily. At day four, treated cells showed a response but this did not persist through day seven.

The Orthofix Physio-Stim and Cervical-Stim PEMF technology is approved by the FDA; the devices generate a uniform, low-level electrical field that helps activate and augment the body's natural healing process to enhance bone fusion.

"We continue to support preclinical evaluation of PEMF technology to confirm and validate the potential for new clinical applications," said Orthofix CSO and study co-author James Ryaby. "We remain committed to furthering the body of clinical evidence that drives best medical practice and improved patient outcomes. We believe this study suggests that PEMF may be an important future treatment option for patients suffering from degenerative disc disease."

Orthofix, which has a market cap of about $730 million, was up almost 4% on the news.

- here is the announcement and the study