Research Profile November 2007 - November is Osteoporosis Month



    OTTAWA, Nov. 1 /CNW Telbec/ -


    We take a look at your bones
    ----------------------------

    You probably don't think about your skeleton too much as it quietly
supports you through the day. But your bones are much more vulnerable than you
may realize. Osteoporosis, a painful and debilitating disease characterized by
the gradual loss of bone density, strikes one out of four women and one out of
eight men over the age of 50. Do your bones a favour: visit CIHR's website to
find out what Canadian researchers are doing to improve osteoporosis
screening, treatment and prevention.
    This month is featuring four stories on osteoporosis that you can publish
each week.

    - How to mend a broken bone - try glue
    - Mothers helping in the fight to beat osteoporosis
    - Raising the alarm against the silent thief
    - Bones at risk in people taking anti-depressants


    This information is available on the Web at
    www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/35204.html

    Next month: The Sixth annual Canadian Health Research Awards

    The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), in collaboration with
the Health Charities Coalition of Canada, Research Canada: An Alliance for
Health Discovery (formerly the Council for Health Research in Canada), The
Globe and Mail and provincial health research organizations, is proud to
present the Sixth annual Canadian Health Research Awards, in recognition of
Canada's best and brightest health researchers. This special evening will be
held on Tuesday, November 20, 2007 at the National Gallery of Canada in
Ottawa. We will have complete stories of prize winning researchers recognized
for their innovative work.

    How to mend a broken bone - try glue
    ------------------------------------

    Chances are, if you're among the 1.4 million Canadians suffering from
osteoporosis, you already know what it's like to break a bone - a long
hospital stay and difficulty getting around. A Canadian research team is using
a kind of super glue that will help patients with broken backs get out of the
hospital quickly and return to an active lifestyle.
    With the support of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Dr. Gamal
Baroud of the University of Sherbrooke and his research team are improving how
surgeons work with this super glue during a procedure called vertebroplasty.
Vertebroplasty is used mainly for broken spines.
    "When we talk about the hip, you can cut it out and put a piece of metal
and it will work again. But when we talk about the spine, the nerve canal goes
through the vertebrae, so you can't cut it out and put in a replacement," he
says. "You have to repair it. There's really no other treatment at this time."
    During vertebroplasty, a needle is guided to the spine and a small amount
of liquid cement is injected into the break. The cement hardens after just 20
minutes, providing strength to the bone. It's like strengthening the
foundations of a house by filling in the cracks with cement.
    "Once done, up to 90 per cent of patients can walk pain free. They can
leave the surgical table pain free," Baroud says. So, instead of days or weeks
in the hospital, patients can leave after only a few hours.
    But, the procedure is not without risks. One of the risks is that the
liquid cement leaks out of the bone. The leakages can cause damage to the
vertebrae and even be lethal.
    Baroud and his team are working to reduce these risks and build a better
product. They are experimenting with new mineral cements which closely
resemble bone. The hope is that these new cements will actually help the bone
rebuild itself.
    In the future, Baroud says the technique could be used for all kinds of
broken bones.
    "I think this will expand not only in the spine but also in the location
like the tibia, wrist and femur."

    Mothers helping in the fight to beat osteoporosis
    -------------------------------------------------

    Bone mass - it's one of those things that when you lose it, you never get
it all back.
    Bone mass is critical for maintaining body strength and for mobility. For
people with osteoporosis, the loss of bone mass can lead to broken bones,
disability and death. Persons with the disease can have bones so brittle and
full of holes that even sneezing causes them to break.
    Researchers at Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland, are
looking to breastfeeding mothers for new ideas on how to help rebuild bones.
    A mother who breast feeds will lose between 5-10 per cent of her bone
mass. This is because the calcium that is contained in breast milk, a nutrient
vital to the growing infant's skeleton, is taken directly from the mother's
bones. As a result, mom's bones become thinner and potentially fragile.
    Amazingly, this extremely rapid loss of bone density is replaced in just
a few short months, something that the skeletons of even the healthiest adults
cannot do.
    "This is quite remarkable," says Dr. Christopher Kovacs, a professor and
researcher at Memorial University. "Usually, adults who lose bone mass from
their system for whatever reason will be stuck at that level or may have a
slow, partial recovery."
    With the help of funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research,
Kovacs and his research team are working hard to figure out how breastfeeding
mothers can rebuild their bones in such a short period of time, information
that would be valuable for developing future treatments for osteoporosis.

    Raising the alarm against the silent thief
    ------------------------------------------

    Osteoporosis, a widespread and crippling condition, is often called the
silent thief because it robs victims of their bone well before the disease is
detected. Canadian researchers have found a new use for the common x-ray that
may help detect bone theft before it's too late.
    When you go for an x-ray, doctors use the radiation that passes through
your body to make an image. But some radiation is scattered off in different
directions. Currently, this information isn't used to make images, it's just
thrown away.
    Canadian researchers are figuring out how to use these scattered x-rays
to create images that provide new information about bones and bone diseases.
These images will significantly improve the diagnosis of osteoporosis, leading
to earlier detection and better treatment. By studying the scattered x-rays,
researchers can actually measure the building blocks of bone such as calcium,
fat and marrow something which is not possible with machinery currently used
to check bone strength.
    Dr. Ian Cunningham of Robarts Research Institute at the University of
Western Ontario in London and his research team are using a one-of-a-kind
machine to make these measurements.
    "This (scatter pattern) information is normally ignored in medical
imaging and in CT scanners. It's because we don't have instrumentation that
can measure it," says Dr. Cunningham, the lead researcher on this study. Their
work is supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
    There is also the potential to use this new technique to help improve
measurement and diagnosis of other conditions such as kidney stones.
    In the future, Cunningham hopes that imaging from scattered x-rays will
be added to machines already in use in hospitals, such as CT scanners where
they can help doctors make an early diagnosis and quickly sound the alarm on
the silent thief.

    Bones at risk in people taking anti-depressants
    -----------------------------------------------

    For millions of Canadians, daily doses of antidepressants are essential
for maintaining a healthy mental and emotional state. Although antidepressants
may benefit the mind, new research raises questions about their effect on the
body.
    Dr. David Goltzman, a researcher from McGill University and supported by
the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, looked at bone health in people
over the age of 50 who were taking a popular form of anti-depressants called
selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Goltzman leads a team of
researchers at the Canadian Multicentre Osteoporosis Study (CaMos).
    SSRIs help keep depression at bay by increasing the impact of a chemical
called serotonin; an important mood regulator.
    More than 5,000 people taking SSRIs had their bones tested using x-rays
and a special machine called a bone densitometer as part of a five-year study
by Goltzman's team, once at the beginning of the study and a second time five
years later.
    The research team found that people over the age of 50 who took SSRIs
daily were twice as likely to have weaker hip bones and vertebra. These
factors increase the risk of breaking bones.
    "In our view, SSRIs are good medications for depressed patients. When
they are correctly prescribed, they work well and they shouldn't be stopped,"
Goltzman says. "All medication will have side effects and this is an important
side effect but it's not something we think should stop people from using it."
    However, Goltzman also notes that therapies using SSRIs for treating
depression, especially among the elderly, may need to include strategies for
preventing osteoporosis.
    "We think patients should have a bone mineral density test both at the
start and at regular intervals after SSRI's are given to see if they have low
bone density," Goltzman says. "If bone mineral density is worsening on the
SSRIs, then they should have life style measures introduced to prevent
osteoporosis."
    This means ensuring that people on SSRIs get enough calcium and vitamin D
in their diet, exercise regularly, stop using tobacco and drink moderately.
It's good advice for people on SSRIs and for those of us who just want to
maintain good bone health now and in the future.




For further information:

For further information: David Coulombe, CIHR Media Specialist, Office:
(613) 941-4563, Mobile: (613) 808-7526, mediarelations@cihr-irsc.gc.ca, 
www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca


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