Researchers from the School of Veterinary Medicine made a new discovery about a protein that can be used to help your bones heal faster.
This research is groundbreaking both because it is the first to demonstrate that the Jagged-1 protein can assist in the healing process of human bones and because it provides insight into possible treatments for a rare metabolic condition called Alagille syndrome.
Professor Kurt Hankenson, along with postdoctoral researchers Fengchang Zhu and Mariya Sweetwyne, conducted the research, published in “Stem Cells.”
Their research investigates the effects of the protein in the Notch signaling pathway, which is a molecular pathway that plays a role in stem cell differentiation.
“We’ve been interested in those cells because they are the cells that form bones,” Hankenson said. “This has been the focus of my research for the past 11 years since first becoming a faculty member.”
According to Hankenson, the fact that the Notch signaling pathway is activated when it interacts with the protein is not a novel finding. However, the research is cutting-edge because “few signaling pathways that directly regulate the formation of osteoblasts have been demonstrated.”
However, the research findings alone were not sufficient for Hankenson and his team. Last November, he and Mike Dishowitz, a former doctoral student of Hankenson’s, created a company called Skelegen in order to translate their scientific research into clinical practice.
Skelegen was created through the support of Penn’s Center for Technology Transfer UPstart program.
“One thing that [scientists] sometimes don’t do very well is translate our basic science research to clinical application,” Hankenson said. “We are really trying to push that translational development faster and farther.”
Hankenson believes that the potential of the research findings is promising. “We think we can use the Jagged-1 to drive the formation of osteoblast [a type of cell that is responsible for bone formation] and that can be used to heal bones,” Hankenson said.
The study was supported by grants from two internal Penn sources, the Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the Institute of Aging, as well as the U.S. Department of Defense.
“The institutes at Penn played an integral role in our being able to complete this,” Hankenson said. “The unique thing about Penn is that Penn has these great bodies to start research internally.”
Dishowitz said that the initial basis of the research was not to apply it to a clinical application.
“All of this that we did was not to create a company, the purpose was purely academic, to understand science and work on engineering strategies,” Dishowitz said.
Now, however, after discovering that the research is both patentable and potentially profitable, they decided to move forward.
“Many people do academic research with the hopes that it will translate to the clinic, but very little research actually does have the potential to be translated,” Dishowitz said. “We feel that Jagged-1 has that chance.”
Dishowitz added that not only will the findings of the research be beneficial to those with Alagille syndrome, but it will also be valuable information for a larger population with significant bone fractures.
“The purpose of the science is to use it in the clinic,” Zhu said. “We need to move the science forward.”
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