Researchers from the University of Southampton are producing a novel drug that will help accelerate and enhance the healing of broken bones. By using bone samples from individuals scheduled for hip replacement surgery, the researchers showed that their drug – a protein involved in the activation of the ‘Wnt’ pathway – stimulates stem cells within bones to proliferate into bone cells.

Broken Bones: Injury Among The Elderly

Lead author Dr Nick Evans, Associate Professor in Bioengineering at the University of Southampton highlighted the huge problem of bone fractures that exists particularly among the elderly. “It is becoming worse as more people get older and the risk of fractures increase. Even though fractures mostly heal on their own, a striking number, about 10 percent, may take over six months to heal, or never heal at all. Worst cases may also lead to various surgical operations or even amputation”.

The Wnt pathway exists throughout the animal kingdom. It is present in sponges as well as humans, and plays a vital role in development and disease. It is also involved in regulating the growth of stem cells, which are ‘master cells’ that restore damaged tissues and replace dead cells.

The ‘Wn’t Pathway: Fast Cure Solution For Broken Bones

“Our research aims to develop chemical ways of stimulating Wnt signaling via drugs. For achieving this, we selectively delivered proteins and other molecules that modified Wnt signaling, specifically to stem cells found in the bone. This could help us develop cures for a number of diseases, such as bone disease, and also enhance bone healing after a fracture”.

However, the findings also reveal that switching on the Wnt pathway for too long diminishes or reverses the regenerative effect. Hence, a timely and targeted drug delivery is essential in designing technologies using this pathway – a factor that this study has covered effectively. The research is published in the journal Stem Cells.