Osteoporosis is a common condition, especially in post-menopausal women, where bones become more fragile due to a loss of tissue. It can be caused by changes in the body’s natural hormone balance or a deficiency in vitamin D or calcium. When the bones weaken in this way, it can result in fractures that are difficult to heal.

Bones in the spine, hip, and wrists are the most commonly affected. A broken hip can cause a number of problems for elderly patients. Human bone mass is constantly changing throughout our lives. As we begin to age, there is some expected loss in bone mass. However, some other factors can contribute to an increased risk of osteoporosis.

According to WebMD, over 8.9 million adults in the United States are affected by osteoporosis. 80% or more are women. Bone loss begins naturally around the age of 30 but we can add calcium rich and bone healthy foods and supplements to our diets to help provide the essential nutrients our bodies need for the building blocks of healthy bones. The change in hormone levels of women after menopause also affects bone density. This is a major reason that hormone replacement therapy is sometimes used to treat osteoporosis. Certain medical conditions can also contribute to bone loss, including kidney disease and disorders that affect the thyroid.

In many ways osteoporosis is still a misunderstood condition. While the process of how a bone becomes porous is well understood by science and medicine, the exact cause of the condition referred to as osteoporosis is still unknown. However, advancements in osteoporosis research are continuously increased our overall knowledge of the disease and how to treat or prevent it.

An intracellular protein named CNOT

In March of this year researchers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology discovered the involvement of a protein called CNOT that affects the metabolism of bone tissue. While much of the process that results in the loss of bone density is caused by hormones, the discovery of the role of CNOT may change the way researchers view the occurrence of the condition and lead to advancements in osteoporosis treatments.

CNOTs are not a new discovery all together. There are 11 types of this protein that have been known to aid in the degradation of messenger RNA. In this process, CNOTs eliminate any excess mRNA and subsequently inhibit overproduction of proteins in cells.

Researchers wanted to see what role this played in causing diseases such as osteoporosis. The researchers studied mice with a condition similar to osteoporosis to see how CNOTs affected the loss of bone density. Mice whose CNOT3 was suppressed had more fragile bones. It was determined that a deficiency of this particular CNOT protein enhanced the productivity and activity of receptors that stimulate the osteoclasts responsible for re-absorbing bone tissue. This may provide some insight into the causes of osteoporosis in elderly patients.

Small molecules that release hydrogen sulfide

In April, the University of Southern California shared their findings that stem cells found in bone marrow need to produce hydrogen sulfide to properly multiply and form bone tissue. Once again, the researchers turned to mice with an osteoporosis-like condition to learn more about the findings. The mice were treated with small molecules that released hydrogen sulfide inside of their bodies, stimulating these stem cells. Researchers believe this could have an impact on the treatment of osteoporosis in human patients.

According to the lead researcher, the flow of calcium ions in the body is influenced by the presence of hydrogen sulfide produced in the cells. A deficiency or absence of this compound produced weakened and brittle bones in the test subjects, which is similar to osteoporosis in humans. A researcher noted:

“These results demonstrate hydrogen sulfide regulates bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells, and restoring hydrogen sulfide levels via non-toxic donors may provide treatments for diseases such as osteoporosis, which can arise from hydrogen sulfide deficiencies.”

This advancement in osteoporosis research could greatly affect the way human patients can be treated in the future. A treatment like this could keep the loss of bone mass below critical and decrease the risk for osteoporosis and the complications such as fractures that can arise.

Real-time measurements of phosphate ions

Another advancement in osteoporosis, this 1 developed by the University of Grenada and released in March of this year, demonstrated that there may be positive results based on a new methodology that would allow specialists to measure the concentration of phosphate ions inside living cells in real time. This procedure would be non-invasive, as opposed to the current methods of gauging phosphate ions in cells.

At this time, only invasive procedures exist to determine the phosphate concentration within the osteoblasts that become bone cells. In the most common method, a radioactive phosphorus is used that can cause a number of negative effects in patients.

The new procedure, called Fluorescence Microscopy, uses a substance that produces a fluorescence that can be generated through agitation using a pulse laser. The results of the test are based on the time the fluorescence lasts which is a signal of the phosphate concentration within the cells. This is then viewed with a special microscope designed for the process. Jose Maria Alvarez Pez, the main author of this work, notes that:

“Our methodology is the only one that uses a technique that, in real time and non-invasively, allows the detection of phosphate ions inside living cells. We believe that this technique will help to develop new drugs to combat illnesses such as osteoporosis.”

All 3 of these advancements in osteoporosis may eventually lead to new procedures or treatments that could affect patients with the condition throughout the world. New research in human medicine is being conducted every day and has the opportunity to change the way we handle a number of chronic conditions. Talk to your doctor about what these advancements in osteoporosis could mean for you and your treatment plan.

What are your thoughts on this new research and what it could mean for patients with osteoporosis?

Image by ZEISS Microscopy via Flickr

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