An herb widely used in traditional Chinese medicine might hold the key to a new osteoporosis therapy that could prevent bone loss without causing side effects, said a new study.
The Journal of Bone and Mineral Research published by Canada's University of British Colombia (UBC) reported the new findings Tuesday.
Using a compound derived from red sage, UBC researchers have found a way to selectively block an enzyme called Cathepsin K (CatK), which plays a major role in the breakdown of collagen in bones during osteoporosis.
The development of osteoporosis drugs by pharmaceutical companies has focused heavily on blocking CatK in recent years.
Quite a number of clinical trials to date have failed due to side effects ranging from stroke, skin fibrosis and cardiovascular issues.
The researchers tested a compound derived from red sage in human and mouse bone cells and a mouse model.
They found that it prevented bone loss and increased the bone mineral density of the mice treated with the compound by 35 percent, when compared with the control group.
The research builds on a previous research which focused on the effectiveness of red sage, known as Danshen in Chinese and used to treat bone ailments, in stopping the activity of CatK in limited ways.
Enzyme blockers work like keys in locks. Most drugs in development have been so called active site-directed inhibitors, which act like master keys and lock the entire enzyme, blocking both its disease-relevant functions such as collagen degradation and its other normal functions.
CatK is a multifunctional enzyme with important roles in other parts of the body, completely blocking it is what causes unexpected side effects in other drugs.
The UBC red sage compound only locks the collagen-degrading CatK activity, preventing the unregulated breakdown of collagen in bones without any other negative impacts.
The treatment could also potentially be used to treat a variety of other bone and cartilage diseases such as arthritis and certain bone cancers.
Osteoporosis is a global health problem that will affect one out of three women and one out of five men worldwide, with a multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry dedicated to finding treatments to stop its progression.