Scientists have been developing a new drug that helps bones heal a lot faster, and a lot better.
Taking bone samples from hip replacement surgeries, the tests showed the new drug activating a protein that unlocks the ‘Wnt’ pathway. This stimulates stem cells found within bones, making them divide and to turn into more bone cells.
The Wnt pathway is found throughout the animal kingdom, playing a fundamental role in animal development and disease. This newfound drug reminds researchers of the way salamanders employ the Wnt pathway; if these animals lose a leg, they can just regrow a new one via stem cell development.
This is more or less how the bone growth drug works – controlling the growth of stem cells, or “master cells”, that help restore tissues after injury.
“Bone fractures are a big problem in society, especially in older people,” says Nick Evans, associate professor in bioengineering at the University of Southampton and lead author of the study in the journal Stem Cells.
“Through our research, we are trying to find ways to chemically stimulate Wnt signaling using drugs. To achieve this, we selectively deliver proteins and other molecules that change Wnt signalling specifically to stem cells, particularly in the bone. This may help us find cures for many diseases, including bone disease, and speed up bone healing after fracture.”
He also explained how 10% of bone fractures take over six months to heal, or never heal at all. In the worst cases this can lead to several surgical operations, or even amputation.