Osteoporosis affects more than 40 million Americans, and Duke researchers are working to treat the disease in a new way.
These researchers want to treat it by reforming bones instead of the traditional treatment of preventing bone loss. Shyni Varghese—professor of biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering and materials science, and orthopaedics—and her research team have discovered a drug that may be able to stimulate the body to naturally rebuild bone tissue. This could be done by inducing A2B receptors, which produce the molecule adenosine, according to Varghese’s August publication in the “Science Advances.”
“These findings led us to speculate we could potentially treat osteoporosis if we are able to stimulate the adenosine A2B receptor, thus inducing bone formation and/or prevention of bone resorption,” Varghese wrote in an email to The Chronicle.
Varghese, a leader in biomaterials and stem cell research, became interested in osteoporosis due to the current lack of effective treatments to reverse the effects of the disease, which causes brittle bones. Some older members of her family are affected by osteoporosis, and Varghese hopes that the findings of her research can be used to help them and all those affected by the disease.
A2B receptors have previously been linked with regulating the growth and maturation of bone cells. In the absence of sufficient adenosine, new bone is unable to form fast enough to replace old bone, causing bones to become weak and increasingly prone to fracture.
In order to stimulate the receptors Varghese and her team used a small molecule called BAY 60-6583. This substance acts on the A2B receptor in the same way that adenosine does, allowing for new bone to form at an increased rate.
Varghese and her team were able to mimic post-menopause osteoporosis by using mice that had had their ovaries removed. The researchers then treated the mice with BAY 60-6583 and found that the drug prevented bone loss.
The study should be viewed as a proof of concept, Varghese emphasized, not as a complete treatment. She noted that the next phase of research is already underway, and that osteoporosis patients could see the treatment in clinical use in the next 10 years.
“The next steps would be to minimize potential side effects by enhancing [the] delivery of the drug or adenosine to the bone, while lowering its presence in other tissues,” Varghese wrote.
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