A study released by the National Institutes of Health this month has pinpointed an important factor in controlling bone loss.
The study found that a chemical mediator in the blood also plays a part in maintaining the balance between bone creation and bone loss. That may be a new area of focus for scientists in developing treatments for diseases like osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Bones are constantly undergoing at least one of two processes: development and degradation. Degradation is caused by osteoclasts, cells that live in the blood while they’re young, then move to the surface of bones, where they develop and do their degenerative work. Osteoblasts counteract this work by building bone. Our bodies are constantly in this process, with bone development outpacing bone loss until we hit about 30, potentially leading to bone disease as we get older.
Right now, most therapies for bone disease target mature osteoclasts. This study breaks new ground in that it suggests looking into osteoclasts before they mature, while they’re still in the bloodstream. Dr. Masuru Ishii, from Osaka University in Japan, headed the study after his previous work led him to make the connection between osteoclasts and blood mediators. He found that certain blood mediators could mobilize immature osteoclasts to keep them from away from bones. He followed up that discovery with an experiment on mice, which found that inhibiting immature osteoclasts’ migration to bones by injecting blood with the mediators resulted in greater bone density.
Part of the study went so far as to treat postmenopausal mice with a chemical that activated the blood mediators. The result? Fewer immature osteoclasts on the bone and greater bone density in those mice.
Of course, the long-term ramifications of this research will require more study. But it looks like this discovery has opened the door for a new approach to the treatment and prevention of bone disease.