A single injection of stem cells can reverse age-related osteoporosis in mice, a team of Canadian researchers has shown.
The discovery provides hope of some day developing a treatment for the crippling disease that affects 200 million people worldwide.
The Ottawa Hospital’s Dr. William Stanford, senior author of the study published in Stem Cells Translational Medicine, had observed that mice with age-related osteoporosis tend to have low levels of healthy mesenchymal stem cells. He theorized that injecting the diseased animals with mesenchymal stem cells from healthy mice should ease the condition. Six months after injecting the mice, the team found that osteoporotic bone had given way to healthy, functional bone.
“We had hoped for a general increase in bone health,” co-author Dr. John E. Davies said in a University of Toronto news release. “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.”
About one-quarter of Canadians will suffer a fracture because of osteoporosis at some point in their lives, costing the health-care system more than $2.3 billion each year. There are few treatment options for the condition.
Mesenchymal stem cells can extracted fairly easily from bone marrow, adipose (fat) tissue, skeletal muscle, umbilical cord blood, placenta, and other sources. A large part of their appeal is they can be transplanted from person to person without being rejected by the body’s immune system. Research also suggests they have anti-inflammatory qualities.
“We stumbled into the bone research field completely by chance a number of years ago, but we felt it was very important to pursue this because age-related osteoporosis takes a huge toll on people and the health-care system,” said Dr. Stanford in an Ottawa Hospital news release. “Obviously we have a lot more work to do, but I’m very excited by the potential that this research could one day help a lot of people.”