Medical Breakthroughs: Osteoporosis Drug

BACKGROUND: Bone goes through a constant cycle of breakdown and new formation. Problems result when the bone loss exceeds the new bone growth. The result is osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weak bones that fracture easily.

While it can affect both men and women, osteoporosis is more common in women. Other risk factors include age, a diet low in calcium, and a family history of the disease. Osteoporosis generally has no symptoms until a fracture occurs. Fractures are most likely to happen in the back, hip and wrist. Hip fractures can have a drastic impact on a person's quality of life as it limits mobility, and complications often result. These fractures are actually a common cause of death.

TREATMENT: Doctors encourage women to take steps to prevent osteoporosis by increasing their calcium and vitamin D intake and getting bone scans. Weight-bearing exercises and a healthy lifestyle can also help.

A number of drugs called bisphosphonates are approved for the treatment of osteoporosis. These drugs work to slow the bone breakdown, but they do not help rebuild the bone that is lost.

Without treatment, post-menopausal women can have their bone density decrease by two percent per year. Estrogen replacement therapy is also commonly used for the prevention and management of osteoporosis in post-menopausal women.

ONE STEP FURTHER: Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University are involved in a study that takes the treatment of osteoporosis one step further. The treatment is parathyroid hormone.

Researchers believe parathyroid hormone will not only stop the breakdown of the bone, but it will also help rebuild lost bone. The treatment is given as an injection once a day. Early studies show it gives patients a short peak level and then is gone, but the bone is stimulated to form new bone. Results show it can increase bone density by 10 percent to 14 percent.

"It's a new way to approach the problem. And the results you see, the improvement in bone density, are much greater than you see with the currently available drugs," Diane Biskobing, M.D., of VCU, said.

Dr. Biskobing says this would be a new approach to help people with severe osteoporosis or those who do not respond to other therapies.

SIDE EFFECTS: The side effects noted so far have been minor, says Dr. Biskobing. It can cause elevated calcium levels but those resolve within a few hours of injection. Other minor side effects may include headache and nausea.


Marian Sheppard
Research Nurse Coordinator
Medical College of Virginia
Virginia Commonwealth University
Division of Endocrinology
PO Box 980111
Richmond, VA. 23298
(804) 828-8932

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