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About SickKids

July 31, 2007

Researchers find that lithium can promote better bone healing

TORONTO – Researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) have found a molecular pathway that plays a critical role in bone healing and have found that the drug lithium can improve the healing process. This research is reported in the July 31 issue of PLoS Medicine.

Delayed fracture healing can cause substantial disability and often requires additional surgical treatments. Finding a drug that could enhance bone healing has been a long-sought treatment that could improve fracture repair and substantially improve patient outcomes.

The signaling pathways regulating bone healing are beginning to be unraveled, and they provide clues into the pharmacologic management of bone repair. The β-catenin signaling pathway has emerged as a key regulator in embryonic skeletogenesis. However, its role in bone repair had been previously unknown.

“At the beginning of the bone healing process the we observed a significant increase in β-catenin,” said Dr. Benjamin Alman, senior scientist in Developmental & Stem Cell Biology at SickKids Research Institute, division head of Orthopaedic Surgery at SickKids, vice chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Toronto and Canada Research Chair in Musculoskeletal Research. “We found that during healing of a tibia fracture in a mouse model β-catenin was activated in both bone and cartilage formation during fracture repair.”

They found that treating mice with lithium activated β-catenin in the healing fracture. However, healing was only enhanced when lithium treatment started after the fracture, meaning that while the level of β-catenin has to be just right at the start of treatment, but after a few days, stimulates improved bone formation.

While this discovery has important implications for the development of therapeutics, the research team is now investigating other pathways involved in bone healing to see what role the pathways play in the process.

Other researchers on this paper were Yan Chen, Heather Whetstone, Alvin Lin, Puviindran Nadesan, Qingxia Wei and Raymond Poon all from SickKids.

This research was supported by Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canadian Research Chair Program, the Premier’s Research Excellence Program of Ontario and SickKids Foundation.

The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), affiliated with the University of Toronto, is Canada’s most research-intensive hospital and the largest centre dedicated to improving children’s health in the country. As innovators in child health, SickKids improves the health of children by integrating care, research and teaching. Our mission is to provide the best in complex and specialized care by creating scientific and clinical advancements, sharing our knowledge and expertise and championing the development of an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system. For more information, please visit www.sickkids.ca. SickKids is committed to healthier children for a better world.

For more information, please contact:

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The Hospital for Sick Children
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Toronto, ON
M5G 1X8
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