osteoporosis bone xray hips

Nano vibrations used to encourage stem cells to form new bone

Image credit: Dreamstime

Scientists are testing a new way to spur bone growth by using tiny vibrations to transform stem cells into healthy bones.

The study will apply nanoscale vibrations to patients with spinal injuries in an attempt to slow down and reverse the effects of a condition called ‘disuse osteoporosis’.

This condition affects patients who have been paralysed, as the lack of use of the paralysed limbs results in insufficient stresses and strains on the bones, which weakens them and makes them more susceptible to fractures.

More than three million people in the UK are estimated to have osteoporosis, which causes around 500,000 broken bones every year.

15 British patients will be tested on in a pilot trial in Scotland after laboratory experiments demonstrated that new bone can be generated by creating very small, precise, vibrations in adult stem cells.

Transducer devices will be attached to their legs to shake up stem cells within bone marrow that ought to be transforming into bone but have chosen a wrong pathway, becoming fat instead.

Osteoporosis, which affects more than three million people in the UK, is linked to this process, nicknamed “fat of the bone”.

Loss of bone density can be extremely fast for people who have suffered severe sudden paralysis, so developing treatments to minimise fractures is vitally important. Although there are existing techniques to persuade stem cells to become bone, they involve complex and expensive engineering or chemicals.

Professor Stuart Reid, from the University of Strathclyde, who helped develop the technology, said: “These precise nanoscale vibrations have been shown to control the behaviour of adult stem cells which can then be used to start the growth of bone in the laboratory from a patient’s own cells.

“The lab-based experiments on stem cells have been remarkably repeatable across several labs in the UK and the trial will investigate whether it will work in patients.”

The technology could lead to radical new ways of treating osteoporosis as well as preventing the disease in people at risk, said the researchers.

Professor Reid added: “If we get positive results then there will be an immediate scale-up of the project and we will see how we can roll this out for the benefit of the wider population and not just those with spinal injuries.”

The team is also keeping the UK Space Agency informed about its progress.

Astronauts who spend lengthy periods of time in space are highly vulnerable to osteoporosis due to the loss of gravity.

In future, nanokicking treatment could be used to protect the bones of crews working on the International Space Station or undertaking long voyages to Mars and other destinations, say the researchers.

The two-year project has received funding of almost £350,000 from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

Science minister Chris Skidmore said: “Osteoporosis can be a devastating condition for the three million people that suffer from it across the UK. This research shows enormous promise of slowing down and even reversing the disease.”

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