Multiple myeloma is a type of bone marrow cancer that currently has no cure. The patient is often given chemotherapy and treatment to manage symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life. A stem cell transplant is suggested in extreme cases to replace the damaged bone marrow.
Most people with multiple myeloma also develop perforations in their bones, which can be a painful condition to live with, which also increases the risk of developing fractures and getting a broken bone with something as simple as turning in their bed.
Now, a group of researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology claim that administration of certain types of sugars can slow down bone perforation and the progression of bone marrow cancer in mice.
The study is published in the peer-reviewed journal Blood.
Bone marrow cancers and multiple myeloma
Bone marrow is a spongy tissue that is present inside long bones of the body like the thigh bone and the hip bone. It has stem cells that are responsible for producing various blood cells, including white blood cells (WBCs), red blood cells (RBCs) and platelets.
Cancers that begin in these stem cells are called bone marrow cancers. Leukemia and multiple myeloma are two types of bone marrow cancers.
Abnormal white blood cell growth occurs in the case of leukemia while a person has abnormal levels of plasma cells (a type of WBCs) in case of multiple myeloma.
Multiple myeloma presents with symptoms like anemia, bone pain, weak bones, recurrent infections, raised calcium levels in blood, constipation, stomach pain and kidney malfunction.
Though the exact cause of the condition is unknown, having a family history of multiple myeloma increases your risk of developing this disease. Men and people above the age of 35 are also at higher risk.
Multiple myeloma is diagnosed through blood and urine tests and imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans and MRIs. A biopsy is usually done to confirm the condition. Patients are mostly given chemotherapy along with steroids and thalidomide to help manage the symptoms and suppress cancer growth. In extreme cases, a stem cell transplant is done to replace the affected bone marrow and give it time to heal.
The latest study
Normally, human bones constantly keep on being destroyed and remade by specific cells called osteoclasts and osteoblasts. The process called bone remodelling ensures that your bones are in good health.
However, in the case of multiple myeloma, bone-eating cells (osteoclasts) increase too much and tip the balance of bone remodelling, leading to bone loss and weak bones.
Additionally, an increase in plasma cells in multiple-myeloma patients leads to the production of excess antibodies of only one type – plasma cells are responsible for producing antibodies. However, these antibodies do not protect you from infections. They just take up more space in your body.
To find the link between the two, the researchers extracted antibodies from multiple myeloma patients with and without bone perforations and exposed them to bone-eating cells. They noted that when the precursors of osteoclasts were exposed to antibodies from patients with bone perforations, the former differentiated into mature osteoclasts. The same did not happen when the precursor osteoclast cells were exposed to antibodies from patients without bone perforations.
It was further noted that antibodies in patients with bone loss lacked two sugars (galactose and sialic acid) on their surface.
To confirm if these sugars are indeed responsible for bone loss, the team conducted animal studies wherein two groups of mice were given two different types of sugar water. Only one of these waters was supposed to reduce bone loss.
As per a news release by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, the theory was proved to be correct when the researchers found that the solution not only reduced bone perforation but also led to less-developed cancer in the test group of mice.
The research team plans to test this solution in clinical trials in the next four to five years.
For more information, read our article on Multiple myeloma.
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