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Discovery Sparks Hope For New Osteoporosis Drugs

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Osteoporosis affects millions of people around the world, becoming a serious problem for many after the age of 50. This condition is the reason for the staggering number of bone fractures occurring every year. Medical advances have allowed us to come up with solutions that slow bone breakdown but we have yet to make significant progress when it comes to stimulating bone growth. Such efforts could receive a major boost after the discovery made by a research team from the St Louis-based Washington University School of Medicine.

Through a study involving mice, the researchers have identified a protein that greatly stimulates bone formation. It could serve as the starting point for developing medicines to treat osteoporosis and other conditions linked to poor bone growth.

Led by orthopaedic surgery professor Fanxin Long, the researchers concentrated on a pathway involved in bone formation. A group of proteins collectively called WNT relay messages to cells and regulate embryonic and adult tissue in mammals, human beings included. These proteins penetrate the cell walls and can then activate multiple pathways within the cells.

According to the study report, which has been published in the PLOS Genetics journal, there is one WNT protein with impressive powers to stimulate bone growth. Called WNT7B, it does its work as part of the mTOR pathway and this mechanism has not received strong focus in bone studies conducted so far. The research team established that mice engineered to produce an extra amount of WNT7B grew new bone much faster than normal mice. Moreover, the protein also sharply increased the number of bone-producing cells, which resulted in the formation of more bone.