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Stem Cell Method Developed to Increase Bone Strength

Wei Yao and Nancy Lane (University of California, Davis)

Wei Yao, left, and Nancy Lane (University of California, Davis)

Medical researchers from University of California at Davis and engineering faculty at University of California at Berkeley have developed a technique to increase bone growth by stimulating stem cell activity in bones. The team’s findings appear online in the journal Nature Medicine (paid subscription required).

The research team led by Wei Yao of UC Davis’s Medical Center conducted tests on mice using a hybrid molecule from the common osteoporosis drug alendronate, marketed under the brand name Fosamax. The engineered molecule created by biochemists on the team, called LLP2A-alendronate, has two parts: the LLP2A portion that attaches to mesenchymal stem cells in the bone marrow, and a second part made of the drug alendronate that is attracted to bone matter. Mesenchymal stem cells from bone marrow induce new bone remodeling, which thicken and strengthen bone.

The hybrid molecule was injected into the bloodstream of mice, where it attached to mesenchymal stem cells in the bone marrow. The molecule then, using the alendronate, directed those cells to the surfaces of bone, where the stem cells synthesized proteins to carry out natural bone-formation and repair functions. The dose of alendronate in the hybrid compound was considered low and unlikely to have inhibited the compound’s therapeutic effect.

After 12 weeks, bone mass in the treated mice’s thigh bones and vertebrae increased and bone strength improved compared to control mice who did not receive the hybrid molecule. The findings also show mice receiving the injections had improved bone formation. The treated mice were considered at an age when bone loss would occur, as well as models for menopause.

“There are many stem cells, even in elderly people, but they do not readily migrate to bone,” says Yao. “Finding a molecule that attaches to stem cells and guides them to the targets we need is a real breakthrough.”

Osteoporosis is the thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density over time, and the most common type of bone disease. About one of five American women over the age of 50 are believed to have osteoporosis, with about half of all women over 50 likely to have a fracture of the hip, wrist, or vertebra.

Nancy Lane, a co-investigator on the study and director of the Musculoskeletal Diseases of Aging Research Group at UC davis says, “This technique could become a revolutionary new therapy for osteoporosis as well as for other conditions that require new bone formation.” Disorders and conditions that could benefit from enhanced bone rebuilding include bone fractures, bone infections, and cancer treatments.

Read More: Stem Cell Bandage Approved for Clinical Trial

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