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New approach to helping bones that won’t heal

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US researchers have found that boosting a key protein inside the body could help repair bone fractures that don’t heal the way they should.

A powerful protein, Jagged-1, helps naturally repair bone injuries and the new study shows that increasing it in some patients could jump-start the process.

The findings, published in the journal npj Regenerative Medicine, point to a possible alternative to a restorative method which uses bone morphogenetic proteins, or BMPs. Designed to promote spinal fusion and bone repair more than a decade ago, these molecules can overperform, causing excessive or misdirected bone growth, the University of Michigan explained.

Few other options exist because bone-healing biological research has often been limited.

“Novel therapies have gone underdeveloped because of this assumption that bones heal without problem,” commented Kurt Hankenson, a professor of orthopaedic surgery at Michigan Medicine. “The reality is there’s a huge number of fractures that occur each year that don’t heal very well.”

Hankenson and a team of scientists from other institutions recently examined a new therapeutic approach: delivering additional Jagged-1 at the site of a bone injury.

“We’ve hypothesized for many years that by binding the Jagged-1 to a biomaterial and delivering it to a bone injury site, we could enhance healing,” Hankenson said.

The results showed that rodents given Jagged-1, applied via wet collagen sponge, saw improvements to skull and femoral bone injuries.

More research is needed, but it’s hoped that the therapy could one day benefit people.