By: 13 March 2019
Osteoporosis sufferers could be helped by Strathclyde research project

Researchers at the University of Strathclyde have launched a clinical investigation which could eventually help millions of osteoporosis sufferers by harnessing pioneering ‘nanokicking’ technology – tiny vibrations to turn stem cells into healthy bone.

The study, which is led by Professor Stuart Reid, will apply nanoscale vibrations to patients with spinal injuries in an attempt to slow down and reverse the effects of disuse osteoporosis. 

Professor Reid, who is the co-inventor of nanokicking technology where precise nanoscale vibrations are used to control the behaviour of adult stem cells, said: “These precise nanoscale vibrations have been shown to control the behaviour of adult stem cells which can then be used to start the growth of bone in the laboratory from a patient’s own cells.”

Bone density loss can be extremely fast for people who have suffered severe sudden paralysis and developing treatments to help promote healthy bones and minimise fractures is vitally important. 

Although there are existing techniques to persuade stem cells to become bone, they involve complex and expensive engineering or chemicals.

The research team will apply the same type of vibration they have been applying to single cells in the laboratory to patient’s legs. Around 15 volunteer patients from the National Spinal Injuries Unit based at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow will be invited to take part in the project over the coming two years.

The project’s co-lead Sylvie Coupaud, who has experience of rehabilitation interventions in patients with spinal cord injuries, said: “There is currently no effective approach to treating osteoporosis in these patients – it is diagnosed but not treated.

“Working closely with the spinal injuries unit, we have already developed robust methods to identify the onset of osteoporosis within weeks of injury, and we are now looking forward to producing effective interventions for patients, to slow the bone loss before a fracture occurs.”

Mariel Purcell, Consultant in Spinal Injuries at the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit, said: “Spinal injury- induced paralysis impacts around 50,000 people in the UK alone, and we are excited to be partners in this first investigation of nanokicking to help treat osteoporosis in these individuals.”

The team are keeping the UK Space Agency informed of the research and Professor Reid, from the University’s Biomedical Engineering department, added: “If we get positive results then there will be an immediate scale-up of the project and we will see how we can roll this out for the benefit of the wider population and not just those with spinal injuries.”

The technology could also eventually be used for astronauts on the International Space Station, who similarly lose bone density because of reduced gravity and the associated lack of loading on their bones.

Source: University of Strathclyde