Management of intervertebral disc (IVD) degenerative disease is challenging, as it is accompanied by irreversible loss of IVD cells. Stem cell transplantation to the disc has shown promise in decelerating or arresting the degenerative process. Multiple pre-clinical animal trials have been conducted, but with conflicting outcomes. To assess the effect of stem cell transplantation, a systematic review and meta-analysis was performed. A comprehensive literature search was conducted through Week 3, 2015. Inclusion criteria consisted of controlled animal trials. Two reviewers screened abstracts and full texts. Disagreements were resolved by a third reviewer. Random effects models were constructed to pool standardized mean difference (SMD). Twenty two studies were included; nine of which were randomized. Statistically significant differences were found with the stem cell group exhibiting increased disc height index (SMD. =. 3.64, 95% confidence interval (CI): 2.49, 4.78; p. <. 0.001), increased MRI T2 signal intensity (SMD. =. 2.28, 95% CI: 1.48, 3.08; p. <. 0.001), increased Type II collagen mRNA expression (SMD. =. 3.68, 95% CI: 1.66, 5.70; p. <. 0.001), and decreased histologic disc degeneration grade (SMD. =. -. 2.97, 95% CI: -. 3.97, -. 1.97; p. <. 0.001). There was statistical heterogeneity between studies that could not be explained with pre-planned subgroup analyses based on animal species, study designs, and transplanted cell types. Stem cells transplanted to the IVD in quadruped animals decelerate or arrest the IVD degenerative process. Further studies in human clinical trials will be needed to understand if such benefit can be translated to bipedal humans.
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