Osteoporosis in mice reversed with single injection of stem cells

Six months after being injected with the stem cells, the scientists observed a healthy functional bone in place of the damaged one(Credit: FromSandToGlass/CC 2.0)

Age-related osteoporosis, where the bone structure deteriorates and becomes more vulnerable to fracture, is said to affect more than 200 million people worldwide. Drugs are available to treat or delay the condition, but a cure has remained elusive. Much-needed help may now be on the way, however, with scientists discovering healthy bone structure can be restored in mice with a single injection of stem cells.

Researchers at the University of Toronto and The Ottawa Hospital had previously found a causal effect between mice developing age-related osteoporosis and a deficiency in mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). One of the promising attributes of MSCs is that, while they can grow into different cells in the body just like other stem cells, they can be transplanted without the need for a match.

"We reasoned that if defective MSCs are responsible for osteoporosis, transplantation of healthy MSCs should be able to prevent or treat osteoporosis," says William Stanford, senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and Professor at the University of Ottawa.

To put this reasoning to the test, the scientists injected MSCs into mice with the condition. Six months later, which is one quarter of the life span of the animal, they observed a healthy functional bone in place of the damaged one.

"We had hoped for a general increase in bone health," says John E. Davies, co-author of the study. "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."

According to the scientists, these results could form the basis for new ways of treating or indefinitely postponing the onset of osteoporosis. The team is currently waiting on the results of trials where elderly patients were injected with MSCs to investigate various outcomes. If these show improvements to bone health, the team hopes dedicated trials will commence in the next five years.

The research was published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine.

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