Stem cells are found in most multi-cellular organisms and are capable of regenerating themselves and can differentiate into a variety of specialized cell types. Contrary to their name, adult stem cells are found in both children and adults and refer to cells found in a born human being. Embryonic stem cells, however, are the controversial cells collected from early stage human embryos -- about four or five days old in humans, consisting of 50 to 150 cells.
Using adult stem cells collected from bone marrow, doctors are now able to correct scoliosis of the spine. During surgery, doctors still use screws and rods to correct the curvature of the spine. After that step, however, harvesting bone from a patient's pelvis is no longer necessary. Doctors can use the stem cells and bone from the bone bank to create solid fusion along the vertebrae to hold the corrected spine in its new position. Once fusion is solid, patients can return to normal activities.
Recovery time is similar to traditional spinal fusion surgery because the same large incision is made in the patient's back. However, the pain from the pelvic bone is eliminated. Some doctors see this stem cell therapy as a more holistic approach to the healing process.
Patients are usually monitored until they develop a 25 degree to 40 degree curvature or greater. After that point, doctors will usually put the patient in a brace to help straighten the spine out and/or stop progression. When the curvature is beyond 40 degrees to 50 degrees, or if the brace does not stop progression, surgery is usually recommended. Scoliosis is not a painful condition, so sometimes it patients can develop an advanced condition before seeking medical attention.
Spinal fusion -- when two or more vertebrae are fused together, preventing further progression of the cure -- is the most common surgery method available for scoliosis. Hooks and rods or screws are used to correct the deformity, then bone from the pelvis is often used to fuse the vertebrae. Unfortunately, spinal fusion can limit a patient's motion after surgery and harvesting bone from the pelvis can be a significant source of pain for patients.
For more info:
Center for Spinal Disorders and Pediatric Orthopedics