On February 6, an article in the online journal Nature Medicine produced another moment of excitement for me. Researchers at UC-Davis Health Systems managed to direct stem cells to increase bone strength and growth. The successful test was conducted on rodents, and the next step involves implementing clinical studies with people.
Initial results suggest potential therapies – using one’s own stem cells – to treat osteoporosis and other bone issues, including fractures, infections, and cancer.
Researchers created a hybrid molecule that – once injected into the bloodstream – collected mesenchymal stem cells in bone marrow, and then attached itself to bone surfaces, where the stem cells can do their normal work creating and repairing bone.
Wei Yao, principal investigator and study author, said, “There are many stem cells, even in elderly people, but they do not readily migrate to bone. Finding a molecule that attaches to stem cells and guides them to the targets we need is a real breakthrough.”
A key part of the engineered molecule includes the “bone-honing” drug alendronate, also known by its brand name Fosamax, which women with osteoporosis routinely take to build bone and reduce fracture risk.
Nancy Lane, osteoporosis expert and UC-Davis Professor of Medicine and Rheumatology, said, “For the first time, we may have potentially found a way to direct a person’s own stem cells to the bone surface where they can regenerate bone. This technique could become a revolutionary new therapy for osteoporosis as well as for other conditions that require new bone formation.”
Osteoporosis now affects about 44 million Americans. Studies show that half of all women will suffer osteoporosis-related fractures. While drugs like Fosamax are available, they carry potential harmful risks when used over the long term.
Another author of the study — and director of the UC-Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures — Jan Nolta said, “These results are very promising for translating into human therapy. We have shown this potential therapy is effective in rodents, and our goal now is to move it into clinical trials.”
The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine has provided a planning grant to develop a proposal for those trials on humans.