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An Aspirin Please

February 13, 2012

aspirin in a bottle

In 1899, German doctors and pharmacists began receiving the first of the sample packets from the drug company Bayer AG. The packets contained a fluffy white powder, called acetylsalicylic acid, which Bayer executives described as the latest modern miracle from the emerging field of organic chemistry. They asked the practitioners, in modern terms, to pilot test the compound on their patients, explaining that it had been shown in their initial human studies to relieve common pain and inflammation minus the debilitating side effects of other drugs. But, as they also explained, other uses certainly weren’t out of the picture. Bayer encouraged the practitioners to publish their results and, in a sign of 20th century things to come, to refer to the new drug by its trade name. They called it Aspirin.

More than 110 years later, researchers continue to discover new uses for aspirin. In the December 2011 issue of the journal Nature Medicine, NIDCR scientists and grantees report in mouse studies that aspirin, applied directly to the site of an experimental skull wound, helps bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells, or BMMSCs, form new bone. Aspirin does so by reducing the concentration of immune cell signaling proteins INF-γ and TNF-α in the tissue microenvironment, where the wound healing occurs. By jamming these specific wavelengths of molecular communication, the scientists found they could control certain types of T cells that inhibit the implanted BMMSCs from forming new bone. Importantly, the aspirin has no negative effects on other T cells subtypes that the researchers found are helpful to engineer new bone.

The researchers concluded, “Although aspirin reduces TNF-α and INF-γ production with improved BMMSC-based tissue regeneration, the therapeutic effect of aspirin in preclinical tests and clinical trials (for example, in improving fracture healing) may be the focus of future studies.”


  • Mesenchymal stem cell-based tissue regeneration is governed by recipient T lymphocytes via IFN-γ and TNF-α. Liu Y, Wang L, Kikuiri T, Akiyama K, Chen C, Xu X, Yang R, Chen W, Wang S, Shi S. Nat Med. 2011 Dec;17(12):1594-601.
  • Also see the comentary: Stem cells deployed for bone repair hijacked by T cells. Shi Y, Wei L, Wang Y, Ren G. Cell Stem Cell. 2012 Jan 6;10(1):6-8.

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This page last updated: February 26, 2014