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Traditional Chinese Medicine Holds Potential As Treatment For Osteoporosis

Antimalarial drug derived from Chinese medicine reverses bone loss in mice, offering hope for osteoporosis treatment.

An antimalarial drug derived from traditional Chinese medicine has been identified as a possible treatment for brittle bone disease.

More than three million mostly elderly people in the UK are estimated to be living with osteoporosis, but few know they have it until they break a bone.

Now state-of-the-art AI technology has offered them hope.

Artificial intelligence has soared in popularity and is being utilized by some scientists to predict which molecules could treat illnesses or to quickly screen existing medicines for new applications.

Researchers have used one such deep learning algorithm and found that dihydroartemisinin (DHA) – an antimalarial drug and derivative of traditional Chinese medicine – could treat osteoporosis as well.

The Chinese team showed that in mice, DHA effectively reversed osteoporosis-related bone loss.

Osteoporotic mice treated with dihydroartemisinin (DHA) had significantly improved bone density (bottom) compared to controls (top). PHOTO BY ACS CENTRAL SCIENCE/SWNS 

Study leader Dr. Zhengwei Xie said: “In healthy people, there is a balance between the osteoblasts that build new bone and osteoclasts that break it down.

“But when the ‘demolition crew’ becomes overactive, it can result in bone loss and a disease called osteoporosis, which typically affects older adults.

“Current treatments for osteoporosis primarily focus on slowing the activity of osteoclasts.

“But osteoblasts – or more specifically, their precursors known as bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells (BMMSCs) – could be the basis for a different approach.

“During osteoporosis, these multipotent cells tend to turn into fat-creating cells instead, but they could be reprogrammed to help treat the disease.”

Previously, Dr. Xie and his colleagues developed a deep learning algorithm that could predict how effectively certain small-molecule drugs reversed changes to gene expression associated with the disease.

Osteoporotic mice treated with dihydroartemisinin (DHA) had significantly improved bone density (bottom) compared to controls (top). PHOTO BY ACS CENTRAL SCIENCE/SWNS 

In the latest study, published in the journal ACS Central Science, they wanted to use the algorithm to find a new treatment strategy for osteoporosis that focused on BMMSCs.

The team ran the program on a profile of differently expressed genes in newborn and adult mice.

One of the top-ranked compounds identified was DHA, a derivative of artemisinin and a key component of malaria treatments.

Dr. Xie, an Assistant Professor at Peking University, said: “Administering DHA extract for six weeks to mice with induced osteoporosis significantly reduced bone loss in their femurs and nearly completely preserved bone structure.”

To improve delivery, the team designed a more robust system using injected, DHA-loaded nanoparticles.

Dr. Xie added: “Bones of mice with osteoporosis that received the treatment were similar to those of the control group, and the treatment showed no evidence of toxicity.”

In further tests, the team determined that DHA interacted with BMMSCs to maintain their stemness and ultimately produce more osteoblasts.

The researchers concluded that the work shows that DHA is a “promising therapeutic agent” for osteoporosis.

Produced in association with SWNS Talker

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