Studies being conducted in the University’s Centre for Orthopaedic & Trauma Research are investigating the underlying processes that affect bone growth and remodelling, with potential benefit in the treatment of a range of bone diseases.
Speaking in the lead up to World Osteoporosis Day (Monday 20 October), research leader Associate Professor Gerald Atkins says osteoporosis and osteoarthritis combined affect more people than any other group of diseases.
“Bone diseases are a huge problem worldwide. In order to develop effective therapies, we first need to understand the underlying biology at both cell and molecular levels,” Associate Professor Atkins says.
“Unfortunately, there is a real knowledge gap in this area. Bone cells are difficult to work with but we are beginning to make important inroads into this area. We know that there are opportunities to make a difference to people’s lives through our research programs,” he says.
One promising area of research is looking at the effects of the protein “sclerostin” – produced naturally by cells deep inside the hard bone tissue – to understand how to regrow bone material. Laboratory studies at the University of Adelaide have so far been positive, showing that sclerostin plays an important role in the regulation of bone formation as well as bone loss.
“Previous research has found that people with sclerostin mutations develop extremely dense and strong bones. Currently, several companies are developing therapies to neutralise sclerostin in order to increase bone mass in people with osteoporosis. This has led us to try to understand the actual natural functions of sclerostin,” Associate Professor Atkins says.
“We’ve found that sclerostin plays important roles in regulating the underlying processes that lead to mineralisation of bone and can even trigger bone loss. In fact this has lead to a new understanding of how bone mass is controlled. Much more research is needed to better understand how we should apply this knowledge to help combat osteoporosis, but our findings so far are pleasing.
“Clinical intervention in conditions such as osteoporosis usually occurs too late and after much bone mass has been lost. Anything that could lead to improvements in bone structure, rather than just limiting bone loss, would be of great potential benefit. Targeting sclerostin certainly looks promising,” he says.
This research is supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
NHMRC Senior Research Fellow
Scientific Co-Director, Centre for Orthopaedic & Trauma Research
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8222 3107
Mobile: + 61 (0)402 841 063