Discoveries Magazine


Good to the Bone

Photo: Clint Blowers

Spinal-compression fractures related to osteoporosis account for more than 750,000 injuries in the United States every year — twice as many as hip fractures. Osteoporosis is a chronic and potentially life-threatening condition characterized by a loss of bone mass that leaves people vulnerable to fractures.

Current treatments for the 10 million Americans who suffer from the condition focus on preventing fractures through lifestyle changes, including exercise, and medications to keep bones from shattering after a fall or a simple activity such as sneezing. Unfortunately, no options are available to heal these patients after fractures occur.

However, new research suggests that regenerative treatments may be on the horizon. In a landmark study recently published in the journal Molecular Therapy, Cedars-Sinai researchers showed that a combination of adult stem cells and a specific bone-building hormone may significantly speed up the rate at which fractures caused by osteoporosis will mend. During the course of the study, investigators helped repair spinal fractures in animal models by giving them injections of parathyroid hormone (PTH) for 21 consecutive days, along with five injections of stem cells. The combination significantly enhanced the stem cells’ migration to the bone fracture and increased the formation of new, healthy bone.

“We knew that stem cells and PTH each had an effect on the healing process,” says Dan Gazit, DMD, PhD, principal investigator and co-director of the Skeletal Regeneration and Stem Cell Therapy Program in the Department of Surgery and the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute. “What we discovered is that stem cells and PTH are much stronger when used in combination than separately.”

“It’s as if they have a synergistic effect,” adds co-author Zulma Gazit, PhD, co-director of the Skeletal Regeneration and Stem Cell Therapy Program. “It’s remarkable — like finding out that one plus one equals three.”

The investigators are working toward developing a clinical trial to test the combination therapy in humans.

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