Can stem cells reverse osteoporosis?
New research from the University of Toronto is showing a wealth of promise using stem cells to treat age-related osteoporosis.
Published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine, the study reveals that a single injection of stem cells into laboratory mice with age-related osteoporosis fully reversed the bone deterioration symptomatic of age-related osteoporosis.
“We had hoped for a general increase in bone health but the huge surprise was to find that the exquisite inner ‘coral-like’ architecture of the bone structure of the injected animals -which is severely compromised in osteoporosis- was restored to normal,” says study co-author Dr. John E. Davies, professor in the Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering (IBBME) and the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Toronto.
As opposed to postmenopausal or type 1 osteoporosis, which is eight times more likely to occur in women than men, age-related osteoporosis or type 2 osteoporosis hits both men and women, typically from age 70 onward when decreased calcium absorption can cause a loss of bone density and structure both to the outer shell and the spongy inner part of the bone.
The key to the new breakthrough was in isolating the link between age-related osteoporosis and the loss of mesenchymal stem cells (MSC). MSCs are found in living tissues and are responsible for the generation of many types of cells, including bone cells. A decrease in MSCs -something that happens with age- means that bones do not get a chance to replace old and damaged bone tissue with new and healthy tissue.
But this process seems to be preventable with the addition of more MSCs. “This study shows that a single dose of minimally expanded mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) injected systemically into a mouse model of human age-related osteoporosis displays long-term engraftment and prevents the decline in bone formation, bone quality, and microarchitectural competence,” say the study’s authors.
The potential health benefits of this research are huge. More than 80 per cent of all fractures in Canadians aged 50 and over are caused by osteoporosis, and at least one in three women and one in five men will suffer an osteoporotic fracture at some point in their lifetime, representing a cost of over $2.3-billion to the Canadian healthcare system as of 2010, according to Osteoporosis Canada.
Human research trials are underway in the United States, says Dr. Jeff Kiernan, lead author of the study and postdoctoral fellow at the Ottawa Hospital with the Centre for Transfusion Research.
“We’re currently conducting ancillary trials with a research group in the U.S., where elderly patients have been injected with MSCs to study various outcomes. We’ll be able to look at those blood samples for biological markers of bone growth and bone reabsorption,” says Dr. Kiernan.
Medications for treating the symptoms of osteoporosis are currently available but prevention is the preferred route, involving exercise and the dietary intake of calcium and vitamin D. For all of us, however, the ravages of time will take their toll – peak bone mass occurs at age 16 to 20 in women and 20 to 25 in men. After that, women and men both begin to lose bone density, beginning in our mid-30s.
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