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One experiment focused on sclerostin, a naturally-secreted protein that tells the body to dial down the formation of new bone. The mice were injected with an antibody that blocks sclerostin, essentially telling the body to “let up on the brake,” explains Chris Paszty, Amgen’s research lead on the project.
That allowed the rodent bodies to keep regenerating bone tissue, resulting in increased mineral density and improved bone structure and strength.
The results were encouraging: the mice injected with the antibody showed increased bone formation and improved bone structure and bone strength, similar to what was seen in the mice who remained on Earth.
Amgen and partner UCB Pharma are working on a drug using the antibody that “is really going to shake things up,” says Stodieck.
The drug “can substantially reverse losses that have made bone very fragile, as opposed to just preventing it from breaking down further,” he explains. “It has the potential to help a lot of people who have gotten into a very weakened state.”
Another of the molecules tested by Amgen on the space flights is already approved in a drug, helping women with osteoporosis prevent broken bones. Marketed as Prolia, the drug was developed in part using mice data from Amgen’s first space experiment.