Chinese researchers have discovered that a drug currently used to treat malaria can also reverse bone loss in mice that have a serious bone disease.
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes the weakening of bones, increasing the risk of fracture or breakage, this is due to an imbalance between the cells that create new bone (osteoblasts) and those that break it down (osteoclasts).
The study, led by the Peking University School and Hospital for Stomatology, used an Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithm to identify drugs that specifically target the expression of genes (how the information encoded in a gene is turned into a function) related to osteoblasts.
The researchers then identified that dihydroartemisinin (DHA) – a compound used as an antimalarial drug, as well as in traditional Chinese medicines – could be used to reprogramme osteoblasts so they once again build bone.
The team injected DHA into mice with osteoporosis and saw that over six weeks, the animals’ thigh bones were significantly less weakened than expected.
The researchers believe this could be an improved approach to current treatments, which target hormone deficiency or the breakdown of bone, but do not directly restore it.
World Osteoporosis Day took place last week.