Everyone loses bone strength as they get older, but the structural changes at work appear to differ between men and women, according to studies published in the journals Bone and the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.
“This could explain why more women experience fractures because of osteoporosis,” says Dr. Steven Boyd, biomedical engineer with the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering and researcher with the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health at the Faculty of Medicine. He is a senior scholar supported by Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions.
Osteoporosis is a bone disease that involves the deterioration of bone tissue, leading to bone fragility and risk of fractures. According to Osteoporosis Canada, the condition affects two million Canadians and often causes disfigurement and reduction or loss of mobility.
Researchers at the University of Calgary used high-resolution, three-dimensional imaging equipment to measure bone at the wrist and lower leg in healthy volunteers aged 16 to 35 and the Calgary participants in the Canadian Multicentre Osteoporosis Study (CaMOS). They used these images to examine the changes in bone structure that occur in men and women as they age. By using a mechanical engineering computer modeling method called finite element analysis, researchers were able to predict the changes in bone strength that will occur over time.
Bone health and strength is typically determined by a measurement called bone mineral density. But studying the internal structure of bone is just as important.
“From an engineering perspective, the micro-architecture of bone – how it’s structured and formed – is a good indication of strength,” says Dr. Boyd. “It’s like having two houses that contain the same number of bricks. They can have different strengths depending on how those bricks are arranged.”
Researchers believe studying the micro-architecture of bone offers valuable clues when it comes to predicting the onset of osteoporosis and developing better treatments.
“This study has provided the basis of important advances in our understanding of how bone weakens with aging,” says Dr. David Hanley, a professor in the Departments of Medicine, Community Health Sciences and Oncology at the University of Calgary. Dr. Hanley is also the Medical Director of Calgary’s Osteoporosis and Metabolic Bone Disease Centre.
“We have also used this imaging equipment and the expertise of Dr. Boyd’s group to study the bone structural and strength response to exciting new treatments of osteoporosis that are being tested in our clinical trials centre.”
November is Osteoporosis Awareness Month in Canada.