Using bone samples from people undergoing hip replacement surgery, the researchers were able to show that the drug – a protein that activates a molecular pathway called the ‘Wnt’ pathway – causes stem cells found within bones to divide and to turn into more bone cells.
The Wnt pathway plays a fundamental role in development and disease in humans as well as animals. It is involved in controlling the growth of stem cells, which are amaster cells’ that help restore tissues after injury.
Most fractures heal completely by themselves, but some take over six months to heal, or never heal at all.
“Through our research, we are trying to find ways to chemically stimulate Wnt signalling using drugs. To achieve this, we selectively deliver proteins and other molecules that change Wnt signalling specifically to stem cells, particularly in the bone,” said lead author Nick Evans.
“This may help us find cures for many diseases, including bone disease, and speed up bone healing after fracture,” Evans added.
However the researchers found that if the Wnt pathway was switched on too long, the regenerative effect was lost or, even reversed.
“This is why it is particularly important to develop technologies for timed and targeted delivery, which is what we have done in this research,” he explained.
The research is published in the journal Stem Cells.