Sometimes I wonder how a scientist ever came up with an idea for a potential treatment. Case in point is a study in the journal Scientific Reports, where researchers use stem cells from the amniotic fluid of a pregnant woman to cure osteoporosis in mice! What researcher, seeing a pregnant woman, thought to her or himself “I wonder if…..”
Regardless of how they came up with the idea, we might be glad they did because this study showed that those stem cells could reduce the number of fractures in mice with brittle bone disease by 78 percent. And that’s raising hopes they might one day be able to do the same for people.
Researchers at University College London took mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) that had been shed by babies into the amniotic fluid of their mother, and injected them into mice with brittle bone disease. Previous studies had suggested that MSCs, taken at such an early age, might be more potent than similar cells taken from adults. That certainly seems to have been the case here where the treated mice had far fewer fractures than untreated mice.
Pascale Guillot, the lead researcher of the study, told the Guardian newspaper:
“The stem cells we’ve used are excellent at protecting bones. The bones become much stronger and the way the bone is organised internally is of much higher quality.”
What was also interesting was not just what they did but how they did it. You might think that the injected stem cells helped reduce fractures by forming new bones. You might think that, but you’d be wrong. Instead, the stem cells seem to have worked by releasing growth factors that stimulated the mouse’s own bone cells to kick into a higher gear, and help build stronger bones.
In the study the researchers say using MSCs from amniotic fluid has a number of distinct advantages over using MSCs from adults:
- They are easier to expand into large numbers needed for therapies
- They don’t create tumors
- The body’s immune system won’t attack them
- They are smaller and so can move around with greater ease
- They are easier to reprogram into different kinds of cells
Next Guillot and his team want to explore if this approach could be used to treat children and adults with brittle bone disease, and to help adults with osteoporosis, a problem that affects around 44 million people in the US.
“The discovery could have a profound effect on the lives of patients who have fragile bones and could stop a large number of their painful fractures.”