Stem cells from cord tissue may be able to treat osteoporosis in the future

Research published this week in Stem Cells Translation Medicine indicates that an injection of mesenchymal stem cells could restore normal bone structure in people suffering from type-II osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis affects over 200M people worldwide and, unlike post-menopausal (type-I) osteoporosis, both women and men are equally susceptible to developing the age-related (type-II) form of this chronic disease. The disease is responsible for an estimated 8.9 M fractures per year worldwide. Fractures of the hip–one of the most common breaks for those suffering from type-II osteoporosis–lead to a significant lack of mobility and, for some, can be deadly.

“We reasoned that if defective mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are responsible for osteoporosis, transplantation of healthy MSCs should be able to prevent or treat osteoporosis,” said lead researcher, William Stanford, who is a Senior Scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and Professor at the University of Ottawa.

Umbilical cord tissue is a readily available source of MSCs.
To test that theory, the researchers injected osteoporotic mice with MSCs from healthy mice. Able to become bone cells, MSCs have a second unique feature, ideal for the development of human therapies: these stem cells can be transplanted from one person to another without the need for matching (needed for blood transfusions, for instance) and without being rejected.

After six months post-injection, a quarter of the life span of these animals, the osteoporotic bone had astonishingly given way to healthy, functional bone.

“The huge surprise was to find that the exquisite inner “coral-like” architecture of the bone structure of the injected animals–which is severely compromised in osteoporosis–was restored to normal,” said John E. Davies, Professor at the Faculty of Dentistry and the Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering (IBBME) at the University of Toronto, and a co-author of the study.

The study could soon give rise to a whole new paradigm for treating or even indefinitely postponing the onset of osteoporosis.