Stem Cell Therapy Could Reverse Osteoporosis

Credit: Jussi Mononen

Age-related osteoporosis is a significant contributor towards frailty, injury and poor health as many of us get older. Could stem cells offer a solution?

Affecting over 200 million people worldwide and responsible for millions of harmful fractures every year, osteoporosis is a serious concern in the pursuit of increased healthspan. While type 1 affects post-menopausal women, both genders can suffer from type 2 which leads to a gradual loss of bone density. 

Stem cells to the rescue

Previous research has hinted that osteoporosis may be partially caused by defective or poorly functioning mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). Now new research tested this by injecting osteoporotic mice with an infusion of healthy MSCs. MSCs are unique in that they don't have to be donor matched, and are therefore comparatively easy to transfer. 

Mesenchymal stem cells can become bone, cartilage, muscle and fat cell types 

"We reasoned that if defective MSCs are responsible for osteoporosis, transplantation of healthy MSCs should be able to prevent or treat osteoporosis" 

The moment of truth

6 months after the treatment this frail bone was repaired and strong again. There are currently painfully limited treatments for type 2 osteoporosis, so despite the fact this incredible result came from mice, if human MSCs display a similar activity osteoporosis treatment could undergo a complete overhaul. That one dose was sufficient to repair the issue is also extremely encouraging. 

"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. "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"

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