Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute in Florida say a new compound spurred bone growth in human stem cells in the lab. Will it work in patients?

The prospect of a new treatment comes from experiments involving mice and human tissue in laboratory settings. The researchers now hope to try out the treatment in larger animals in tests involving bone density, aging, obesity, and diabetes.

The findings were published today in the journal Nature Communications.

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The study focused on a protein called PPARy. It is a “master regulator of fat,” according to a press release from Scripps.

The protein can also inhibit the production of stem cells in bone marrow. Those stem cells can develop into bone, connective tissue, and cartilage.

The researchers noticed that a partial loss of the PPARy protein in a genetically modified mouse model led to increased bone formation.

The researchers then made a compound that represses the biological activity of PPARy. When human stem cells were treated with the compound, there was a significant increase in a type of cell known to form bone.

The scientists said the compound could be used to treat not only osteoporosis but other ailments as well.

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Osteoporosis is a disease in which bone density becomes too thin when a person loses bone and/or fails to produce enough bone. Bones are constantly eroding and rebuilding.

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Osteoporosis can make bones become weak and brittle to the point where mild stresses such as bending over or coughing cause fractures, according to Mayo Clinic.

It’s estimated that 10 million people in the United States have osteoporosis and another 18 million are at risk for developing the disease.

Osteoporosis affects men and women of all ages, but white and Asian women past the age of menopause are at highest risk.

Currently, drugs such as Fosamax (alendronate), hormone replacement therapy, and exercise regimens are used to limit bone loss in those with osteoporosis. These treatments don’t rebuild lost bone, however.

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