New Genes for Osteoporosis Discovered

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Scientists have discovered a baker’s dozen of new genes—thirteen—associated with osteoporosis that will hopefully lead them to ways to prevent this bone-weakening disease. Some of the genes discovered are related to both bone density and the risk of fracture.

Osteoporosis is a significant problem worldwide. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 34 million Americans are at risk for osteoporosis and another 10 million already have the bone disease. A brief sampling of osteoporosis prevalence around the world reveals that an estimated 2 million people in Canada, 7.8 million in Germany, 70 million in China (older than 50), and 2.2 million in Australia are affected, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation.

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The discovery of the new genes was made by an international team of more than 30 researchers who gathered data collected from about 20,000 participants in five genetic studies. Dr. J. Brent Richards of the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal was the study’s co-first author, and he noted that “We were able to look across the whole human genome to try to identify which genes—of all the genes that we inherit—that seem to be responsible for osteoporosis.” This bone disorder is a highly heritable characteristic.

Richards believes this new discovery, which adds 13 new genes to a pool of other osteoporosis genes previously discovered, will eventually benefit patients, especially since some of the newly found genes are associated with bone density and with risk of fracture. The International Osteoporosis Foundation reports that one-third of women older than 50 will experience such a fracture, as will 20 percent of men. Osteoporotic fractures are a significant health problem, with Richards noting that “hip fractures are a common and costly condition which has a 50 percent mortality rate at two years.”

The discovery of new genes for osteoporosis provides scientists with more tools with which to find ways to help prevent and treat this bone disease. Richards pointed out that “This study affords us the opportunity to study the genetic mechanisms which control bone strength, and to intervene to prevent peoples’ bones from getting weak.” And that would be a significant discovery to benefit millions of people around the world.

SOURCES:
International Osteoporosis Foundation
Jewish General Hospital Montreal news release May 5, 2010
National Osteoporosis Foundation

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