Washington, January 26 : A new study authored by an Indian origin researcher suggests that a medication, which is used to activate stem cells to treat bone marrow cancer, may also offer a potential therapy for osteoporosis.
Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) writes that the medicine called bortezamib (Bzb) has been found to improve bone density in a mouse model of osteoporosis during experiments.
The author says that the improvement might be attributable to the medicine's effect on the mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which differentiate into several types of tissues.
MSCs are found in the bone marrow, and they have the potential to develop into the bone-building osteoblasts and several other types of cells like cartilage, fat, skin and muscle.
"Stem cell therapies are often thought of as putting new cells into the body, but this study suggests that medications can turn on existing stem cells that reside in the body's tissues, acting as regenerative medicines to enhance the body's own repair mechanisms," says Dr. David Scadden, director of the MGH Center for Regenerative Medicine and HSCI co-director.
"Drugs that direct immature cells to become a particular cell type, like in this study, could potentially be very useful," he added.
In their first experiments, the researchers found that a treatment with Bzb increased several factors associated with bone formation in mice.
Similar results were seen when cultured MSCs were treated with Bzb, but not when the drug was applied to cells that were committed to become particular cell types.
The researchers say that subsequent experiments supported their hypothesis that Bzb increases osteoblast activity and bone formation by acting on MSCs, but not on more differentiated osteoblast precursors.
They point out that current treatments for osteoporosis, which target differentiated cells like osteoblasts and the osteoclasts that break down bone, have limitations.
According to them, the ability to direct differentiation of MSCs could be a promising approach to treating osteoporosis and cancer-associated bone loss.
"If the paradigm displayed in this study holds true for other tissues, we may have options for repairing and regenerating sites affected by injury or disease with medications - that would be pretty exciting." says Scadden, who is the Gerald and Darlene Jordan Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
The study has been published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.