Researchers from the University of Southampton in England tested an amphibian-inspired drug in bone samples of hip replacement patients. The drug, which contains a protein that triggers the 'Wnt' molecular pathway, results in the stem cells division and bone cells reproduction.

Found throughout the animal kingdom, the Wnt pathway is vital in the growth of stem cells that help in tissue restoration post-injury. One best example of the Wnt pathway's restorative prowess is shown in salamanders, which are able to regrow a new limb after losing one.

Bone fractures pose big problems in today's society and senior adults suffer the most as the risk increases with age. In time, most bone fractures are able to heal completely on their own. Still, there is an approximately 10 percent of bone fractures that take more than six months to rebuild and some do not heal at all. In worst case scenarios, some bone fractures lead to surgeries and amputation.

The researchers are looking for methods on how to chemically fuel drugs with Wnt signaling capabilities. By delivering proteins and other molecules capable of altering Wnt signals to the bone's stem cells, the findings could pave the way to new treatments for bone diseases and even speed up recovery time after an injury.

"These results demonstrate that Wnt stimulation could be used as a therapeutic approach by transient targeting of stem cell populations during early fracture healing, but that inappropriate stimulation may prevent osteogenesis," wrote the researchers in the study published in Stem Cells journal on Nov. 17.

However, the researchers found that left on too long, the Wnt pathway's restorative effect could be lost, or worse, inverted. The team stressed the importance of targeted and scheduled delivery of the drug with the Wnt pathway's timetable in mind.

"This is why it is particularly important to develop technologies for timed and targeted delivery, which is what we have done in this research," said bioengineering associate professor Dr. Nick Evans. 

Photo: Ted Eytan | Flickr

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