Could a protein grown in lettuce help heal broken bones faster?

Bones heal slower in people with diabetes, but researchers are working on an affordable therapy using plants that could aid healing. For now, experiments in mice show promise.

People with diabetes are not only more at risk of breaking a bone, but they also take longer to heal than in the general population.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia are paving the way for an oral therapy that could heal bones quicker in people with diabetes.

The Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 30.3 million people in the United States — or 9.4% of the population — have diabetes. The CDC also writes that 84.1 million people have prediabetes, which can develop into type 2 diabetes within 5 years if left untreated.

That makes for more than 100 million adults in the U.S. living with diabetes or prediabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, the estimated economic cost of the disease to the U.S. was $327 billion in 2017.

“Over the past 50 years, injections of recombinant human insulin, made in yeast or bacteria, saved millions of lives, but these products are not affordable for more than 90% of the global diabetic population,” Daniell told Medical News Today.

Growing protein treatment in lettuce

The research team’s work involves introducing specific proteins to plant cells. The plants then begin to express that gene in their cells. Once the plant produces the protein in its leaves, people can use it for oral therapy.

Using methods refined by Daniell, the team expressed IGF-1 and CTB (a protein that helps transport the fused proteins into the bloodstream from the digestive system) into lettuce leaves and removed the antibiotic resistance gene.

Treatment boosts bone growth in mice

The treatment caused the growth of several cell types, including those needed to build bones — oral-tissue cells and osteoblasts — in mouse and human cells.

When the researchers fed the drug to mice, the rodents showed an increase in IGF-1. When mice with diabetes consumed the drug, they showed signs of boosted healing with improved bone volume, density, and area.

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