Miracle jab: Teriparatide doubles the speed at which broken bones mend
Hundreds of thousands of people suffering from devastating fractures have been offered new hope from a drug that “miraculously” boosts the healing process of bones.
Researchers believe that the injection of a drug normally used to treat osteoporosis also increases the ability of bones to heal themselves and significantly reduces the pain of sufferers.
In some cases patients who had been confined to wheelchairs were able to walk or leave full time care because their broken bones finally healed.
The research is particularly relevant to the elderly because, as bodies age, the ability to mend broken bones reduces significantly and in older people the damage may lead to permanent disability and even death.
But scientists have discovered that a daily injection of a hormone – teriparatide – showed “miraculous” results in turning back the clock of bone mending.
In some cases the skeletons of elderly healed at the same rate as “young children”, cutting recuperation time in half.
Now the scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York are beginning full time trials to see if the early promise is fulfilled.
Dr Edward Puza, who heads orthopaedic bone research at the university, said the drug appears to boost the amount of stem cells – the body’s master cells – in the bones.
“In many people, as they get older, their skeleton loses the ability to heal fractures and repair itself,” he said. “With careful application of teriparatide, we believe we’ve found a way to turn back the clock on fracture healing through a simple, in-body stem cell therapy.”
At the heart of the research is a form of teriparatide known as Forteo, which was approved for the treatment of osteoporosis in 2002.
Observations led a team of clinicians and researchers to uncover how this drug can also boost the body’s bone stem cell production to the point that adults’ bones appear to have the ability to heal at a rate typically seen when they were young children.
“It takes three to four months for a typical pelvic fracture to heal,” said Dr Susan Bukata, who also took part in the study.
“But during those three months, patients can be in excruciating pain, because there are no medical devices or other treatments that can provide relief to the patient.
“Imagine if we can give patients a way to cut the time of their pain and immobility in half? That’s what teriparatide did in our initial research.
“I had patients with severe osteoporosis, in tremendous pain from multiple fractures throughout their spine and pelvis, who I would put on teriparatide.
“When they would come back for their follow-up visits three months later, it was amazing to see not just the significant healing in their fractures, but to realise they were pain-free – a new and welcome experience for many of these patients.
“Typically, a pelvic fracture will take months to heal, and people are in extreme pain for the first eight to 12 weeks. This time was more than cut in half; we saw complete pain relief, callus formation, and stability of the fracture in people who had fractures that up to that point had not healed.”
The researchers, who presented their findings at the Orthopaedic Research Society conference in the USA, revealed that of 145 patients who had an unhealed bone fracture – half of them for six months or longer – 93 per cent showed significant healing and pain control after being on teriparatide for only eight to 12 weeks.
The breakthrough could lead to huge increase in the standard of living of the elderly as half of women and one in five men in Britain will suffer a fracture after the age of 50.
A year after a hip fracture, 60 per cent of patients are limited in activities like feeding, dressing and going to the lavatory. Around 80 per cent are unable to do activities like shopping, gardening and climbing stairs.
In a survey, 80 per cent of older women said they would rather die than experience the reduced quality of life that follows a serious hip fracture and subsequent admission to a nursing home.
Hip fractures cause more than 1,500 premature deaths every month.
Dr Claire Bowring, Medical Policy Officer for the National Osteoporosis Society, welcomed the news.
“Fractures have a serious impact on quality of life,” she said.
“During the first 12 months after a hip fracture, over 50 per cent of people who were previously able to walk will require assistance and a third will have trouble sleeping due to pain.
“The National Osteoporosis Society welcomes any research that could help those who experience painful and disabling broken bones regain their independence.
“A larger clinical trial will determine if this new application of an osteoporosis drug could have benefits for fracture patients that have not yet been realised.”