Scientists from University College London and Great Ormond Street Hospital are looking to start human trials on a new drug to help drastically improve bone strength. The drug is made using stem cells taken from the amniotic fluid surrounding a developing foetus in pregnant mums. From these cells exosome cells (cells which can transfer material between one cell and another) are made which can significantly improve bone strength. There are approximately 3 million sufferers of osteoporosis is this country, a disease affecting a majority of women particularly after the menopause. Others are born with a genetic condition or brittle bones and suffer the painful symptoms earlier in life. Astronauts also suffer significant bone loss during space travel due to the lack of gravity, losing as much as 2% of their bone mass per month in space (compared to an elderly woman losing 2-3% of her bone mass over a decade!) With missions proposed to go to Mars taking up to two years this could prove catastrophic on an astronaut’s health if left without medication or with side effects suffered.
The current drugs (such as bisphosphonates) are ones used in chemotherapy and can cause quite nasty side effects, whereas these cells have shown virtually no side effect so far. Clinical trials in mice carrying the brittle bone gene showed 78% fewer fractures when the drug was injected. It is hoped that an injection could be developed and offered to people when they begin to show signs of bone deterioration such as when a woman begins the menopause process. Scientists believe it could save the NHS thousands of pounds by reducing the amount of fractures that could be prevented.