Stem Cells Provide a Possible Cure for Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a disease which causes bones to become weak and fragile. In extreme cases, bones can become so fragile that even bending over or getting a small bump can cause them to fracture.
Since bone is a living tissue, it is constantly breaking down and being replaced. Osteoporosis occurs when the body’s ability to create new bone is not able to keep up with the removal of old bone.
The risk of osteoporosis increases dramatically with age, and it can be an extremely serious condition for older people. Falling is the most common way for an elderly person to lose their independence.
Currently there is no cure for osteoporosis, and the treatments that are most likely to help can have severe side effects. However, in a new study from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD, led by Dr. Aaron James, a novel new technique was developed that shows a great deal of promise for the treatment of osteoporosis.
Dr. James and his research team investigated a method for turning stem cells into bone cells. Stem cells have the unique potential to transform into any specific type of cell. The researchers focused their research on a specific class of stem cells, known as perivascular stem cells. These stem cells generally turn into either fatty tissue or bone tissue. Until recently it was not understood what caused these stem cells to go in one direction or the other. Dr. James explained, “Our bones have a limited pool of stem cells to draw from to create new bone. If we could coax these cells towards a bone cell fate and away from fat, it would be a great advancement in our ability to promote bone health and healing.”
In previous research, Dr. James hypothesized that a particular protein known as WISP-1 was likely to determine whether perivascular stem cells turn into fat or bone tissue. The team’s current research sought to prove this hypothesis.
In order to do so, they genetically modified a set of human stem cells so that they could not produce the WISP-1 protein. After analyzing the gene activity of the engineered stem cells and comparing them with the activity of normal stem cells, the researchers were able to confirm that the WISP-1 protein played a fundamental role in determining the development of these stem cells. They were also able to what amount of this protein was required to turn these stem cells into bone tissue rather than fat.
In the second stage of their research, the scientists used rat models to determine whether WISP-1 could promote specific types of bone healing, in particular, in spinal fusion. Spinal fusion, in which two vertebrae are fused into one, is a common treatment for certain types of spinal osteoporosis, as well as scoliosis and other bone issues, and requires using a massive amount of bone cells.
The researchers injected a much smaller amount of human stem cells with active WISP-1 into the rat vertebrae where fusion was desired.
Within four weeks the animals with the WISP-1-infused stem cells not only displayed high levels of WISP-1 in their spinal tissue, but more importantly they formed new bone tissue in precisely the vertebrae that needed to be fused.
On the other hand, when the researchers injected human stem cells without active WISP-1 into the rat vertebrae where fusion was desired, no fusion took place. This last experiment determined that the results were conclusive.
This fundamental and exciting new breakthrough may herald the beginning of a true cure for osteoporosis. As Dr. James states: “We hope our findings will advance the development of cellular therapies to promote bone formation after surgeries like this one and other skeletal injuries and diseases, such as broken bones and osteoporosis.”
Until osteoporosis can one day be tamed, there is still much that can be done to help those with osteoporosis. Atlantic Coast Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center conveniently located in scenic Lakewood, NJ, offers a specialized SMART Rehab program that is created to suit each patient’s individualized care plan based on their personal physician’s protocol, assuring the best clinical outcomes.
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