In this month’s Save Our Bones Bulletin we’ll look at a groundbreaking study from Stanford University that has linked sections of the human genome to an increased risk of osteoporosis.
Next, you’ll learn about a brand new way to conduct studies on bone health. And last, we bring you a just-published study on the link between osteoporosis and dementia.
So read on to get the latest osteoporosis news.
New Study Locates Osteoporosis Risk In The Genome
Researchers have discovered that our genetic code may be a predictor of low bone mineral density, osteoporosis, and fracture risk, before any physical symptoms appear.
Stuart Kim, Ph.D., an emeritus professor of developmental biology at Stanford University, conducted a study that found 899 regions in the human genome that are associated with low bone mineral density (BMD). Of those, 613 were previously unknown.
This groundbreaking study, the largest of its kind, analyzed the genetic code of 400,000 participants who agreed to have their personal information included anonymously in a UK biobank. The study then compared each participant’s genetic code to their health information, including age, diet, gender, exercise habits, and BMD.
Dr. Kim found significant relationships between particular genomes and osteoporosis.
“People deemed to be at high risk — about 2 percent of those tested — were about 17 times more likely than others to develop osteoporosis and about twice as likely to experience a bone fracture in their lifetimes. In comparison, about 0.2 percent of women tested will have a cancer-associated mutation in the BRCA2 gene, which increases their risk of breast cancer to about six times that of a woman without a BRCA2 mutation.
Early identification of people with an increased genetic risk for osteoporosis could be an important way to prevent or reduce the incidence of bone fracture, which according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation affects 2 million people each year and accounts for $19 billion in annual health care costs.
‘There are lots of ways to reduce the risk of a stress fracture, including vitamin D, calcium, and weight-bearing exercise,’ said Stuart Kim, Ph.D., an emeritus professor of developmental biology. ‘But currently, there is no protocol to predict in one’s 20s or 30s who is likely to be at higher risk, and who should pursue these interventions before any sign of bone weakening. A test like this could be an important clinical tool.’”1
While this test does not account for environmental and behavioral factors that can lead to bone loss, it would allow people with a genetic tendency toward low BMD to take action early. It’s heartening to hear Dr. Kim list supplementation and exercise as the best way to reduce the risk of fracture- methods that The Save Institute has championed from the get-go.
New research has linked 899 regions of the human genome to low BMD, opening up the possibility of genetic testing as a way of assessing genetic risk of osteoporosis.
Zebrafish Offer New Models For Learning About Bone Formation And Osteoporosis
For many years laboratory mice have been the primary study subjects to learn more about bone development. While mice are a good model for studying biological systems that humans also possess, they also pose several drawbacks.
Now, the University of Ghent has identified a new and more efficient model for studying bone: zebrafish.
“Zebrafish, which is a small tropical bony fish, is highly suitable for research into the skeleton and can help us better understand the biological processes in the human skeleton. This has for long been a very controversial topic in the scientific world as zebrafish as a disease model for bone disorders was questioned in part due to the large genetic distance (400 million years) between humans and zebrafish. However, about 70% of the genes in humans are also present in zebrafish, and many parts of the skeleton are very similar between both species, making zebrafish much more suitable for medical research than once thought, even to study our skeleton.
We were able to introduce several genetic mutations in the zebrafish and modify genes that also have an important impact on bone quality and result in fragile bone diseases in human (i.e. Osteoporosis and Osteogenesis Imperfecta). It now appears that these “mutated” zebrafish exhibit remarkably similar features as human patients, such as fractured ribs, bowed bones and facial deformities.”2
The findings utilizing this new research model will hopefully expand our understanding of the bone remodeling process, leading to new tools for supporting that complex system. Conversely, new lines of research may get turned over to pharmaceutical companies for the development of new drugs.
Scientists will use zebrafish for this first time as study subjects that aim to deepen our understanding of bone formation and osteoporosis.
German Study Finds Link Between Osteoporosis And Dementia
Dementia and osteoporosis may go hand in hand in some cases, according to a new study published by German researchers. The study is notable for its scale- examining the records and diagnoses of 60,000 patients at German general practices.
While the study is far from perfect (more on that later), it does highlight the importance of applying a holistic approach to health. Many intricately connected systems make up our biology, and we’re discovering just how interdependent they are.
“The study included patients diagnosed with osteoporosis between January 1993 and December 2012 (index date) and were followed for up to 20 years. After applying similar inclusion criteria, controls were matched (1:1) to osteoporosis patients using propensity scores based on age, gender, index year, several comorbidities, and co-therapies. The main outcome of the study was to determine the proportion of patients with all-cause-dementia diagnoses within 20 years of the index date.
The present study included 29,983 patients with osteoporosis and 29,983 controls without osteoporosis. After 20 years of follow-up, 20.5% of women with osteoporosis and 16.4% of controls had been diagnosed with dementia (p-value<0.001). At the end of the follow-up period, dementia was found in 22.0% of men previously diagnosed with osteoporosis and 14.9% of men without this chronic condition (p-value<0.001). Osteoporosis was associated with a 1.2-fold increase in the risk of being diagnosed with dementia in women and a 1.3-fold increase in the risk of being diagnosed with dementia in men.”3
While the study shows an association between a dementia and an osteoporosis diagnosis, it doesn’t provide any information about why that association might exist. The researchers suggest that the conditions may share some risk factors, meaning that one isn’t causing the other, but rather both may share the same underlying causes.
The study fails, however, to look at several important data points- including BMD and lifestyle-related risk factors (such as smoking or exercise habits). Perhaps these factors help to explain the association between the two conditions.
Regardless, the relationship between osteoporosis and dementia- both associated with increasing age- make clear the importance of staying on top of your whole health.
A German study found that people diagnosed with osteoporosis were more likely to be afflicted with dementia.
With science advancing by leaps and bounds, our commitment to keep you abreast of the latest osteoporosis news continues.
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1 Krista Conger. “Osteoporosis, fracture risk predicted with genetic screen.” Standford Medicine Newsletter. 26 July 2018. Web. https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2018/07/osteoporosis-fracture-risk-predicted-with-genetic-screen.html
2 “Researchers develop revolutionary zebrafish model to gain more insight into bone diseases.” New Medical. 13 August 2018. Web. https://www.news-medical.net/news/20180813/Researchers-develop-revolutionary-zebrafish-model-to-gain-more-insight-into-bone-diseases.aspx
3 IOS Press. “Impact of osteoporosis on the risk of dementia in almost 60,000 patients.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 August 2018. Web. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/08/180820150144.htm