Sarah Goodwin

Kathi Ovnic
Holly Korschun
June 22, 1998

The 1997 discovery of a gene that induces bone growth makes possible today's announcement that Sofamor Danek Group Inc. has entered into an agreement with Emory University to develop and market advanced biomedical products with the potential to treat bone disorders.

Scott D. Boden, M.D., associate professor of Orthopaedics at the Emory University School of Medicine and director of Emory Spine Center, first reported identification of the LIM Mineralization Protein-1 gene (LMP-1 gene) and its protein product at the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research in September 1997.

Cell culture and early animal studies suggest the gene is key to the body's ability to build new bone.

"The technology to grow new bone has enormous potential for treating a number of orthopaedic conditions," Dr. Boden says. "The repair of fractures, reconstruction after trauma or infection and removal of tumors all would be greatly enhanced with genetic tools to precisely control bone healing. We hope to eventually re-engineer the gene to treat osteoporosis."

Current treatments for many orthopaedic problems, particularly those involving the spine, require bone grafts. The estimated half million bone graft surgeries performed annually in the United States require the surgeon to take bone from the pelvis and apply it, or graft it, to the compromised area of the skeleton. Patients usually immobilized for months while the graft "fuses" with the host bone. About half of bone grafts are for spinal fusions to treat spinal deformity or instability caused by degeneration, injury, cancer, infection or inflammation. Unfortunately, up to 40 percent of spinal fusions may fail to form adequate bone.

Dr. Boden received the prestigious Volvo Award for Low Back Pain Research last week in Brussels at the annual meeting of the International Society for Study of the Lumbar Spine. He reported successful animal studies using gene therapy with the LMP-1 gene to generate spine fusions.

"Our demonstration of successful local gene therapy for spine fusion, along with ongoing work by others with intra-articular and intra-discal gene transfer should reinforce the message that orthopaedic surgery is uniquely poised to enter the era of gene therapy," Dr. Boden says. "Orthopaedics presents a variety of attractive clinical applications for gene therapy that are more readily achievable than curing cancer, cystic fibrosis or muscular dystrophy -- diseases which, to date, have been beyond the reach of gene therapy."

The business agreement Emory has entered into with a company the calibre of Sofamor Danek, according to Vincent La Terza, J.D., director of Emory's Office of Technology Transfer, epitomizes the type of mutually beneficial collaboration that ensures bench research is translated promptly to the bedside.

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