Researchers Headed For Osteoperosis Treatment And Prevention

Researchers at Queen Mary, University of London were curious to discover why unlike the weight-bearing bone in our limbs, the human skull bone does not get thin as it ages, even in post-menopausal women.  They report having found some quite remarkable differences between the two bone types that could help develop new treatments for osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis causes bones to become fragile and easy to break: it is more common in older people, especially women past the menopause according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance.  Some 10 million Americans currently need long-term care services. 

Among people aged 50 and over, half of women and one fifth men suffer from the condition.  Experts note that as our population of 78 million baby boomers age, the numbers of cases and deaths increase accordingly.

The scientists explain that bone is not a dead material but a living, dynamic, and finely balanced system of bone formation and breakdown.  Cells called osteoblasts make new bone by producing a matrix that then becomes mineralized, while cells called osteoclasts break it down.

The researchers suggested that one explanation for why skull bone does not get thinner with age like limb bones do is because it has different bone matrix characteristics due to differences in osteoblasts.  They found that limb bones have significantly higher osteocyte densities than skull bone. 

There was an astonishing total of 1,236 differences; meaning that about 4 per cent of the genome showed different levels of activity in the two types of bone cell.  Some of the genes affected are known to be involved in making healthy bones.   The researchers suggested that because the differences between limb and skull bone were so profound, they must arise early in life, probably at the stage when they are still forming in the womb.

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