Stem cells derived from the amniotic fluid that surrounds a developing baby could help repair the skeletons of people who have brittle bones.
A new study has found that mice bred to have fragile bones suffered 80 percent fewer fractures when given a novel treatment that saw them infused with the cells.
The latest research, published in Scientific Reports, raises hopes that there could be a therapy that could treat patients who have rare bone diseases, such as osteogenesis imperfecta, which in severe cases can see babies being born with multiple fractures, hearing loss, brittle teeth, and growth problems.
It could also potentially be used to help people with osteoporosis, which generally affects older men and women as their hormone levels change.
The amniotic fluid in the womb has multiple roles.
While it helps to protect the growing baby, it also contains stem cells that help it to develop. It was by taking this fluid, and isolating the stem cells that the researchers were able to test their ability to strengthen weak bones.
When they then injected the cells into the specially bred mice, they found that they increased the strength and plasticity of the bones, something that helped to prevent them from breaking so easily.
Further investigations found that rather than directly making new bone, the stem cells were instead encouraging existing bone-forming cells, known as osteoblasts, to up their activity.
What is so compelling about the new therapy is that it could potentially help not only those born with skeletal issues, but those who go on to develop them later in life.
“I am extremely excited because this is a major breakthrough that will potentially affect everyone,” Dr Pascale Guillot, who led the research, told BBC News.
“I think in the next few years we will have ways to slow down the aging of our skeleton to reduce fractures and pain.”
But the treatment could have interstellar applications, too. One of the main problems to overcome with space travel is how to stop the wasting of bones during long haul missions and flights.
Astronauts engage in physical activity while in microgravity, but this is not enough to completely mitigate the bone loss.
If proven effective, this latest treatment could offer a solution.
“This will also be very important for space travel as when you don’t have G-force the bones become fragile,” said Dr Guillot.
With the success of these initial experiments, it is hoped that in the next few years the treatment will move onto human clinical trials.