Osteoporosis - or porous bone - is the most prevalent bone disease in the nation today. It can lead to fractures of the hip, spine, wrist, and other areas. Osteoporosis is often called the "silent disease" because bone loss occurs without symptoms. More than 10 million Americans have osteoporosis.
Because osteoporosis threatens the quality of life of present and future generations in the Mid-South and around the world, The Campbell Foundation is promoting major research and treatment initiatives that seek to identify the causes of osteoporosis, arrest its progress, improve bone quality so osteoporosis will victimize fewer women and men, and educate people diagnosed with or at risk for osteoporosis about the disease.
Dr. Weikuan Gu, Assistant Professor in the University of Tennessee-Campbell Clinic Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, is leading a team of researchers investigating the functional genonics of bone and osteoporosis to identify genes causing poor bone quality. Dr. Santos F. Martinez and Alice Ruch, RN, oversee Campbell Clinic's Osteoporosis Resource Center that focuses on evaluating and managing the disease. More than 300 patients are treated for osteoporosis at Campbell Clinic each year.
Facts on Osteoporosis
- In the United States today, 10 million individuals are estimated to already have osteoporosis and another 34 million to have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis.
- 80 percent of those affected by osteoporosis are women.
- One in two women and one in four men over age 50 will have an osteoporosis related fracture in their lifetime.
- Osteoporosis is responsible for more than 1.5 million fractures annually, including 300,000 hip fractures. Nearly one-fourth of hip fracture patients aged 50 and over die within a year of their fracture.
- The estimated national expenditures for osteoporotic and associated fractures is $17 billion annually - or $47 million each day.
Osteoporosis is a disease process that can be managed if identified early. Drug therapy and lifestyle changes can make a big difference.
The Research Approach
As with many diseases, a major breakthrough in understanding and controlling osteoporosis is likely to begin in the laboratory. At UT-Campbell Clinic, Dr. Weikuan Gu and other researchers are involved in a study to identify the chromosomal regions responsible for bone quality. In another study, Gu is using mouse models and seeking to identify the gene that has naturally mutated in the mice under study. The genome of mice is very close to that of humans, Gu said.
Advances in genetic research have helped speed up the laborious process of mapping genes. "It used to take several years to find one gene. Now several genes are found in a year," Gu said.
Dr. Gu's lab is equipped with a SpectraMedix machine that not only identifies and sequences genes but also unveils the molecular pathway of disease development, paving the way for drugs to be developed to prevent the disease before it starts.
Other new machines Gu and his team are using for bone studies are a CT scan for small animals (Micro Cat) and a PIXImus, an x-ray machine capable of providing a picture of the skeletal structure of the whole body. This state-of-the-art equipment was purchased with National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding awarded to the Department.
At present, physicians are treating the disease of osteoporosis rather than the individual patient, Gu said. Current and future genetic research will endeavor to uncover ways to treat people individually, based on their genetic makeup.
Osteoporosis is a disease that has been readily identified for decades. "There was no treatment for it, and you couldn't quantify it," Dr. Santos Martinez said. "If you were treating it, it was hard to identify progress."
Advances in diagnostic technology, new medications, increased knowledge about diet and exercise, and greater public awareness of the disease, risk factors, and symptoms have influenced progress in the detection and management of osteoporosis in recent decades.
One new educational opportunity available for osteoporosis patients at Campbell Clinic is participation in "Choices for Better Bone Health," a program sponsored by pharmaceutical companies Proctor and Gamble and Merck that provides resources to help participants improve their bone health through self-management.
Patients take part in a seminar series that includes five weeks of instruction on the basics of osteoporosis, drug treatments for the disease, handling back pain and limited mobility, physical therapy or rehab, home safety, injury prevention strategies, nutrition, and other topics.
"There are 10 to 15 patients in each class, and the participants become a support group for each other," said Osteoporosis Program Coordinator Alice Ruch, RN. "To our knowledge, nothing else like this exists in the Memphis area." The program is free and is available to diagnosed and "at risk" patients within Campbell Clinic.
"Osteoporosis is a disease that can be managed if identified early," said Dr. Martinez. "We can try to control it pharmacologically and preventatively. In identifying what can be done, treatments and modalities have been found to make a difference in a year or a short time. Drug therapy and lifestyle changes can make a big difference."
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