VOLUME 22 #2

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Bad to the bones: Seeking treatment for osteoporosis

image of human skeleton
Photo by Evan Krape

RESEARCH | Anja Nohe calls osteoporosis “a significant disease and a silent disease,” afflicting some 10 million Americans and leading to more deaths among women in the U.S. than breast and ovarian cancer combined. The condition weakens the bones and becomes increasingly common, especially in women, with age.

“A person often doesn’t think about osteoporosis until she has a fracture, and a fracture doesn’t even have to come from a fall,” says Nohe, associate professor of biological sciences. “Once you realize that you have it, it’s only somewhat treatable.”

Nohe and her research team are working with a specific peptide—peptides are chains of two or more amino acids—that she developed. In early tests the peptide appears promising for attacking osteoporosis on two fronts, by reducing the loss of bone that occurs with the disease and by simultaneously creating new bone. The National Institutes of Health recently awarded Nohe a five-year, $1.65 million grant to support her work in conducting further research on the peptide.

Bone is a living tissue that, throughout a person’s life, is continuously being renewed as old tissue is reabsorbed and replaced by new tissue to the extent that, as Nohe says, “Every 10 years or so, you get a new skeleton.” In osteoporosis, bone loss is accelerated, and less of it is replaced.

“You have cells that eat up the bone and cells that build up new bones,” Nohe says, explaining that current osteoporosis treatments target only one or the other of those mechanisms and that they also can have serious side effects.

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