17 Oct CAN STEM CELLS TREAT OSTEOPOROSIS?
Scientifically speaking, as you grow older, your bone metabolism does not stay the same. You begin to lose bone mass faster than you accumulate it, the bones become more fragile and fractures become more common as well. Osteoporosis is a common skeletal disorder seen in the elderly and is simply a result of an imbalance between bone resorption and bone formation. No cure has been found for osteoporosis but current treatments employ the use of pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments to strengthen bones and prevent fractures. These treatment approaches can only prevent loss of bone mass and achieve partial recovery. Scientists are currently looking at stem cell treatments to achieve the regeneration of damaged bone tissue as well.
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a skeletal disease caused by an imbalance between bone resorption and bone formation which results in the weakening of bones, loss of bone mass and strength, and frequent fractures. It is a common bone disorder seen in the elderly for obvious reasons. Up till the age of 30 in humans, bone mass builds up faster than it is broken down.
When the body needs calcium which is stored in the bones, bones are broken down to release calcium and remodeled to retain strength and function. Bone metabolism is an ongoing process. However, as we get older, the rate of bone resorption becomes faster than the rate of bone formation. Certain risk factors also contribute to inducing this condition by maintaining a state of imbalance between the critical processes of bone metabolism.
Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
Certain risk factors which have been found to increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis include; age, sex, race, genetic predispositions, hormone levels, nutritional factors, medications, medical conditions, lifestyle factors, and so on.
Women are at higher risk of developing osteoporosis as they get older. This is attributed to a decrease in estrogen production as they get older. Estrogen exerts a protective effect against bone loss in premenopausal women. After menopause, the level of estrogen drops significantly with consequent loss of this protective effect and gradual loss of bone mass and strength.
Caucasians and Asian women have also been found to be at higher risk of osteoporosis than African-American and Hispanic women. People who also have a significant family history of osteoporosis are at higher risk of developing the disease as well.
Osteoporosis is a condition to be expected in men and women above the age of 50 and can be induced by medications like steroids, anti-cancer drugs, anti-seizure medications, and so on. People with medical conditions like celiac disease, hormonal imbalances, kidney disease, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis are also at high risk.
Lifestyle choices like excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle are also known risk factors for osteoporosis.
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
In the early stage of the disease, there are usually no noticeable symptoms but as the disease progresses, some of the earliest symptoms include; back pain, loss of height, stooping posture, or other abnormal posture changes and frequent fractures.
Can Stem Cells Help Osteoporosis?
The primary imbalance responsible for the development of osteoporosis is influenced and maintained by a series of complex events and processes. Research works over the years have tried to uncover ways by which stem cell therapy can achieve recovery of lost bone mass and improvement in symptoms of osteoporosis.
Current medical therapy for osteoporosis involves the use of anti-absorption drugs that try to limit the resorption of bone and anabolic drugs that induce the formation of bone. Some of the drugs already in use include; bisphosphonates, calcitonin, parathyroid hormone, raloxifene, and so on. However, these drugs cause a lot of adverse effects that may be difficult to manage. Some of these drugs cannot be used for long-term treatments.
Stem cells have been found to play a huge role in the natural process of osteogenesis and skeletal regeneration. Certain types of stem cells have been isolated from the bone marrow and have been found capable of differentiating into bone tissue. In animal experiments, stem cells like mesenchymal stem cells have been used to mediate bone loss, tissue repair, regeneration of musculoskeletal tissues, and secretion of various mediators of bone formation and repair.
In humans, transplantation of stem cells has been attempted in the treatment of osteogenesis imperfecta in children and was reported to improve bone stability, healing, bone structure, and growth. Not much work has been reported on clinical trials involving stem cell therapy for osteoporosis. There are still concerns regarding the safety and efficacy of such treatments.
Based on current knowledge, stem cell therapy for osteoporosis shows great potential and may replace the current therapies in the nearest future.