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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Proteins To Yield New Clues in Fight Against Osteoporosis

September 29, 2010

Proteins To Yield New Clues in Fight Against Osteoporosis

New Study at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Aims To Identify New Methods of Diagnosing and Treating Osteoporosis

Deepak Vashishth

A $1.76 million study at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute seeks to identify new methods of diagnosing osteoporosis and inform the development of next-generation drugs to treat the bone disease.

The five-year study, funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), is led by Deepak Vashishth, professor and head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Rensselaer. Partnering with researchers from Yale University and the Hospital of Special Surgery, Vashishth will investigate what role two proteins, osteocalcin and osteopontin, play in bone fractures over time.

“Age-related bone fractures are a major health problem in the United States, and the risk of suffering this kind of fracture increases as we get older and our bones grow more fragile,” Vashishth said. “Our study examines how the proteins osteocalcin and osteopontin may impact bone fragility and fracture. We’re confident that our results will lead to new methods of diagnosing osteoporosis, provide new targets for drug development, and advance the fight against this devastating disease.”

The new study builds from Vashishth’s past research into the effects of modifying the molecular composition of certain proteins in bone, better understanding the relationship of bone biology and bone fracture, and developing new treatments to combat and reverse bone fragility. While bone mass historically was considered to be a significant predictor of bone fracture risk, current studies show bone loss to be a key contributor, but not the sole cause, of bone fracture. This means other factors, such as the molecular biology of an individual’s bones, need to be examined in order to more fully understand age-related bone fragility.

Bones are comprised primarily of bone matrix, made up of woven or stacked cells. The proteins located between these cells, called extracellular matrix proteins, may offer some clues to unlocking the secret of bone fragility. Evidence suggests two such proteins, osteocalcin and osteopontin, can influence the formation of nanoscale damage and microcracks in bone. However, very little is known about how or why this works.

“We will investigate the effects of osteocalcin and osteopontin on damage morphology and bone fragility at the nanoscale, microscale, and macrostructural scale,” Vashishth said. “We believe our results will show, conclusively, how the combination of nanoscale damage, paired with creation of nanoscale bands affected by the proteins, actually impact the overall structure and fragility of the bone. Once this is established, we and other researchers will be able to start working on new treatments for osteoporosis and related bone diseases.”

For more information on Vashishth and his research at Rensselaer, visit:

http://www.eng.rpi.edu/soe/index.php/faculty/154?soeid=vashid

Contact: Michael Mullaney
Phone: (518) 276-6161
E-mail: mullam@rpi.edu

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About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, 32 research centers, more than 145 academic programs, and a dynamic community made up of more than 7,900 students and more than 100,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include more than 145 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration.