ABC World News with Charles Gibson—April 14, 2009
Researchers could barely believe their eyes: a drug that could make the hard-to-heal broken bones of elderly patients recover like they were decades younger.
Forteo, a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration seven years ago to treat osteoporosis that patients inject once a day, works by activating idle stem cells in bones, so they turn into bone cells and start building more bone, more quickly.
"We have seen patients who have been bound to wheelchairs who could walk independently because this drug helped them heal their fractures," said Dr. Susan Bukata of the University of Rochester Medical Center. Dr. Bukata was a fellow in Metabolic Bone Diseases at Hospital for Special Surgery in 2003-2004.
Researchers are saying that the drug could be an important breakthrough in treating hard-to-heal bone fractures faster and with less pain.
Preliminary results of the emerging research found that of 145 patients with unhealed broken bones -- many for six months or longer -- who were tested, 93 percent had significant healing and pain control after just weeks on Forteo.
The results were so impressive that the National Institutes of Health has launched its own larger and more rigorous study of the drug among post-menopausal women with pelvic fractures.
But Rheumatologist Dr. Linda Russell of Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City said she's already using the drug on hard-to-heal fractures.
"If an average fracture takes 12 weeks to heal in an elderly patient, or sometimes longer, with this drug you might see fracture healing in six to eight weeks," Russell said.
By some estimates, as many as 300,000 Americans a year potentially could benefit from this treatment -- people with fractures that are slow to heal, especially in areas like the pelvis, hip and spine.
This segment originally appeared at abcnews.com.