Reversing Osteoporosis One Stem Cell at a Time

osteoporosis stem cells

Osteoporosis is asymptomatic until it presents itself with a fracture. The condition affects an estimated 200 million people worldwide and causes close to 9 million fractures every year. Hip fractures resulting from senile osteoporosis nearly always require hospitalization and are fatal in 20 percent of patients, leaving another 50 percent permanently disabled. Only a third of the patients who suffer a hip fracture due to osteoporosis are able to recover fully.

The statistics are grim, but a group of doctors at The Ottawa Hospital, working in conjunction with researchers at the University of Toronto—a leader in stem cell research—have some good news. It may be possible to restore the normal structure of bone in elderly people with type II (senile) osteoporosis with just one injection of mesenchymal stem cells.

Osteoporosis is essentially a disruption of the fine balance between formation of new bone and resorption of old bone. Type I osteoporosis is noted in postmenopausal women due to low levels of estrogen hormone in their blood. Type II osteoporosis affects both men and women equally and is a consequence of aging. Patients are left with thin, less dense, and weaker bones that are prone to fractures.

The Stem Cells Translational Medicine Group, led by Professor William Stanford at The Ottawa Hospital, has demonstrated that transplantation of healthy mesenchymal stem cells can help reverse age-related damage to bones. Based on prior studies that revealed a relationship between defective or deficient mesenchymal stem cells and the presence of senile osteoporosis in mice, the study authors reasoned that this therapy could be applied in humans suffering from senile osteoporosis.

Progenitor stem cells have the ability to differentiate into different types of cells and tissues in the body. Mesenchymal stem cells can develop into bone cells. A second therapeutically advantageous feature of stem cells is their ability to be transplanted in a person without a risk of rejection.

Stanford and his team were astonished to note that six months following stem cell therapy (a duration equivalent to a quarter of the lifespan in mice), the previously osteoporotic bone had been replaced by functional, healthy bone. John E. Davies of the University of Toronto, who co-authored the study, states this was an unexpected result. The severely compromised architecture of osteoporotic bone had been restored completely back to normal.

Although dedicated trials of stem cell therapy as a treatment for osteoporosis in humans are not currently underway, the animal studies have indicated this is a promising approach. Potentially, a single dose of therapy can offer long-term results from a debilitating and sometimes fatal condition. Researchers are awaiting the results of ancillary trials in the United States, in which elderly patients have undergone mesenchymal stem cell injections. Various parameters are being monitored in these patients, and any evidence of bone growth will be further proof of the efficacy of stem cell therapy in reversing osteoporosis.


Mira Swave, MD

Contributor at Regenerative Medicine Now

Mira Swave, M.D. is a specialist in the field of Regenerative Medicine.
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