MELBOURNE researchers have uncovered a pathway that controls whether bones get stronger or weaker, a breakthrough they hope will lead to the first cure for osteoporosis.
More than a million Australians suffer from the debilitating brittle bone condition, in which bone mass is lost quicker than the body can replace it.
St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research’s bone cell biology and disease unit has found that by deleting a particular receptor in the bone-forming cells of animals, they can create low bone mass and cause defects in collagen, leaving the bones more susceptible to breakage.
Lead researcher Associate Professor Natalie Sims said after proving this concept, the results of which were published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, they would now focus on shifting the balance of proteins the other way, aiming to improve bone strength.
Prof Sims said the research, backed by a $626,000 grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council, would focus on two proteins, STAT3 and STAT1, which were being investigated around the world in cancer and immunology research.
“We think that if the balance is in favour of STAT3, we will get increased bone formation. But if the balance is shifted the other way, we will get increased bone destruction,” Prof Sims said.
“At the moment there are new treatments based on STAT3 and STAT1 inhibitors and activators that are being used for cancer in preclinical trials.
“We’ll know whether they’ll actually be useful for treating bone disease as well, or whether their use for cancer will have good or bad effects on the skeleton.”