One-third of the world population will experience a bone fracture in their life-time and despite the ability of the bone tissue to self-regenerate, 10% of these injuries will not heal adequately requiring multiple reparative surgeries. When the lack of bone regeneration occurs it is classified as a ‘non-union’ fracture. No pharmacological treatment for non-union fractures is available on the market and this type of injury is particularly costly for the NHS.
Wnt growth factors are some of the most ancient known signalling proteins. They're found throughout the animal kingdom - from sponges to man - and play fundamental roles in animal development and disease. The molecular pathways that Wnt proteins activate also regulate stem cell division, and can sometimes promote tissue regeneration in animals such as amphibians. We're investigating whether we can promote tissue regeneration in mammals, particularly in the skin and bone, by chemically modulating Wnt signalling. To achieve this, we’re trying to selectively deliver proteins and other molecules that change Wnt signalling specifically to stem cells, particularly in the bone.
In our lab we want to exploit the potential of Wnt signaling for promoting bone regeneration. The activation of the Wnt pathway is crucial for the formation of new bone tissue during fracture repair. However, this process is tightly regulated and the incorrect stimulation of the pathway during the different healing stages may result in inhibitory rather than stimulatory effects. For this reason it is fundamental to control the activation of the Wnt signaling pathway in both space and time.