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New osteoporosis treatment on its way? Scientists found that altering sugar chains promotes bone growth

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Posted February 20, 2018

Osteoporosis affects millions of people around the globe. It causes bones to become fragile and the bone tissue is losing density. Scientists have been trying to promote bone growth in osteoporosis for quite some time and now they thing they may have the answer. Altering structure of sugar chains on the surface of stem cells could become the centre of the new treatment.

Osteoporosis reduces bone density, making them fragile. Current medication can only halt the progression of the disease. Image credit: BruceBlaus via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 4.0)

Sugar chains may not be something you learn at school, but they are extremely important as they coat all cells in your body. They are quite complex and arrange themselves in random structures, which makes them difficult to understand and research. However, at the same time they are very important, because they support immune system and define blood groups. Scientists wanted to see what would happen if they used a common laboratory chemical kifunensine, which alters sugar chains, on stem cells that make up bone tissue. Kifunensine has been considered as a potential treatment agent, but no clinical trials have been conducted.

Scientists found that after a couple of days kifunensine interrupted normal sugar’s function, which allowed stem cells to enhance bone formation. In other words, kifunensine could enhance bone growth, which would definitely help in osteoporosis. This is also the first time sugar chains have been connected to bone growth. Current treatments for osteoporosis usually rely on halting the progression of the disease, but this new method could actually help regrowing the lost tissue. Paul Genever, one of the authors of the study, said: “This is an exciting step-forward into understanding the role of these sugars in its relationship to bone growth, but we still have some way to go in realising just how this mechanism works and what would happen to the cells when treated inside the body”.

Scientists already know the future directions of this research. Firstly, they have to see how bone stem cells could be targeted without chemical affecting other cells in the body. This is important in order to ensure that no negative side effects will be had during the therapy. They also have to conduct further experiments to understand why altering sugar chains would have an effect on bone growth.

Hopefully, after all this is done, people will have a new therapy option on the table. Osteoporosis typically affects older people, making their bones fragile. Fractures and breakages take a long time to heal and this significantly reduces the quality of life.

 

Source: University of York

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