Sep. 05, 2018

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BGU researchers have shown that a natural protein in the body can be tailored to function as a multi-targeting drug to treat osteoporosis, a disease in which the bones become brittle and fragile. 

In a study published in the scientific journal PLOS Biology, Dr. Niv Papo of BGU's Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology Engineering and the National Institute of Biotechnology (NIBN), Dr. Noam Levaot of BGU's Department of Physiology and Cell Biology and Ph.D. student Yuval Zur​ showed that by targeting two cell receptors at the same time, the engineered proteins may provide relief for osteoporosis patients with fewer adverse side effects than current treatments. 

“Osteoporosis is caused by a disturbance of the normal balance between the production of new bone tissue and the breakdown of old tissue by bone-removing cells, known as osteoclasts," says Dr. Levaot. 

Current drugs for osteoporosis work by completely shutting off this breakdown, known as bone absorption, for an uncontrolled duration. This increases the risk for adverse side effects, such as low blood calcium, atypical fractures, and destruction of the jaw bone. 

“These problems – combined with digestive side effects – limit the utilization of currently available drugs and leads to poor patient compliance. Thus, despite the progress that has been made in treatment of patients with osteoporosis, there remains a significant demand for safer and more specific osteoporosis drugs with a prolonged biological effect," Levaot adds. 

The researchers said the drug is based on a natural human protein that has been modified to inhibit the bone destruction activity of osteoclasts by simultaneously targeting two receptors (communication sites) present on these cells. They showed that in an animal model for osteoporosis the drug is very specific to osteoclasts and can effectively prevent bone absorption. 

“By demonstrating that a natural protein in the body can be modified to function as a drug with the ability to target two cell receptors at the same time, we believe that such modified proteins could provide the next generation of therapeutics with targeted activities and fewer adverse side effects. We are also confident that such modified protein compounds could also work on other diseases, including other bone diseases and certain types of cancer, particularly metastatic bone cancer," says co-researcher Dr. Papo.​