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Watching how stem cells transform can provide clues for fighting osteoporosis in older women, according to a study released by the University of Missouri.

Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by a substantial weakening of the bone. Bones in this condition have larger holes and spaces than usual. The disease primarily affects the elderly.

Scientists have long theorized stem cells can be utilized to uncover cures and new treatments for a variety of diseases, including osteoporosis. The biggest challenge, University of Missouri researchers say, has been the inability to watch stem cells transform. By focusing on fat-derived stem cells transforming into bone cells, they say they have taken a critical step forward.

“Stem cell treatments and therapies hold tremendous promise in treating a range of diseases and injuries; however, there is still a lot to learn about how stem cells grow and convert to needed tissues,” MU engineering dead Elizabeth Loboa said in a press release. “We need the ability to observe and monitor the process without impeding it; therefore, our team decided to analyze and study a new approach to monitoring stem cells as they transform into tissues we may need to treat disease.”

In the study, published in Stem Cells Translational Medicine, fat-derived stem cells taken from participants of various age groups were examined using electrical cell-substrate impedance spectroscopy, or ECIS, as they transformed into bone cells. Researchers found that cells taken from older participants transformed more rapidly, but with lower levels of calcium.

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