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Protein combination could help treat osteoporosis and other bone defects

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Findings from a new US study could lead to the development of effective therapeutic treatments for bone skeletal defects, bone loss and osteoporosis.

Currently, a bone-healing protein called bone morphogenetic protein-2, or BMP2, is used to treat bone skeletal defects but the high concentrations needed to induce human bone formation have been linked to serious side effects, including life-threatening cervical swelling and abnormal and inconsistent bone growth.

Researchers at UCLA found that combining BMP2 with another protein could significantly improve clinical bone restoration.

In a study published in the American Journal of Pathology, the team paired BMP2 with the NELL-1 protein, which has been shown to increase bone formation and stimulate key factors for bone growth in multiple preclinical models.

The combination of the two proteins increased bone formation while inhibiting the formation of fat cells — a negative side effect of BMP2, which encourages stem cells to form both bone and fat cells, UCLA reported. By contrast, NELL-1 encourages stem cells to form bone cells instead of fat cells. When used together, the two proteins stimulate bone production more dramatically than either does alone.

“Before this study, large bone defects in patients were difficult to treat with BMP2 or other existing products available to surgeons,” said Dr. Kang Ting from the UCLA School of Dentistry. “The combination of NELL-1 and BMP2 resulted in improved safety and efficacy of bone regeneration in animal models — and may, one day, offer patients significantly better bone healing.”