Student Profile - Dr David Oehme

David Oehme

Student Profile - Dr David Oehme

According to neurosurgeon Dr David Oehme, about 70% of the population experience back pain at some time in their life and up to 10% suffer chronic back pain.

With a sizeable portion of these cases caused by degenerative disc disease, David saw the need to investigate possible treatments.

“While operating on the spine can have good outcomes, it doesn’t treat the underlying problem of disc degeneration,” said David, senior registrar in neurosurgery.

“My PhD focussed on developing new ways to treat and repair damaged or degenerate discs using a type of stem cell to produce cartilage within the disc space.”

Under the supervision of Professor Graham Jenkin, Deputy Centre Head at the Ritchie Centre, David successfully implanted stem cells and repaired degenerate discs in animal models.  

“I also showed that different cell carriers can actually enhance the regenerative potential of the stem cell in terms of forming cartilage,” added David.

David’s findings have been published in the prestigious Journal of Neurosurgery.

“Back pain has a lot of causes and while this potential treatment will not necessarily be suitable for everyone, for patients with back pain originating from a degenerative disc, we have shown that injecting stem cells into that disc reduces the pain and repairs the disc,” said David.  

David’s research using regenerative medicine also involved participating in a multi-centre phase 2 clinical study, with extremely positive results to date.

“I’m part of a much wider project which has now gone into a phase 3 study and if the results are as promising as the phase 2 results, this treatment is likely to be in the clinic in the next 3-4 years.”

“Importantly, our research is proper science by proper researchers and FDA approval, with rigorous statistics and rigorous scientific processes to apply regenerative medicine to treating a common problem such as back pain,” said David.

Of his research experience, David says it has opened a huge number of doors, including a successful fellowship application to the Swedish Neuroscience Institute in Seattle, Washington in 2016.

“Good jobs in neurosurgery are very competitive now, so without a solid research background, you don’t really have a foot in the door.”

“Because of the research I’ve done at the Monash Health Translation Precinct (MHTP), my applications for fellowships were very strong and I was offered every job I applied for,” said David.

David strongly encourages physicians to get involved with research.

“A lot of medical students and young doctors think it’s a race to get through training but the reality is once you’re a consultant, you’re there for 30 to 35 years.”

“Rather than treat it as a race, aim to be the best possible doctor; incorporating research into your overall training definitely makes you a better doctor in the end.”