Your bones are like your muscles, always being broken down and built back up.  So when a disease that makes bones weak and results in breaks occurs in half of all women and a quarter of all men over 50, it is a serious health issue.

Bone is naturally broken down and then restored in approximately 8 years your entire skeleton is completely replaced. In the first year of life, the entire skeleton is completely replaced.  In older people the breakdown process occurs faster than the build-up process, leading to weaker bones and susceptibility to fractures.

In order to stop bones in the elderly from being vulnerable to breaks, medications are prescribed to prevent the natural breakdown of the bone.

New research shows that a common osteoporosis drug, zoledronic acid, (sold as Zometa, Zomera, Aclasta or Reclast) used to stop bone loss, actually stops new bone formation. 

"The key to effectively treating osteoporosis lies in increasing bone mass," said the study's lead author, Antonino Catalano, MD, PhD, of the University of Messina in Italy. "Zoledronic acid halts bone loss, but it also signals the body to stop forming new bone mass. The drug may need to be combined with other treatments to add bone mass."

The study looked at the treatment of 40 postmenopausal women.  The women were put into two groups and one was given the osteoporosis drug treatment while the other was given a placebo.  The women who were treated with the medication had an increase of a biomarker, sclerostin, which is widely known to inhibit new bone formation.

Researchers performing the study indicated that the osteoporosis drug should be used in combination with other treatments that block the effect of sclerostin, and allow bones to rejuvenate normally.

"The data points to an opportunity to increase bone mass by combining zoledronic acid with a drug that suppresses the resulting sclerostin's effect," Catalano said. "An innovative combination therapy using zoledronic acid and selective antibodies to block the sclerostin could simultaneously stop bone loss and encourage new bone formation. This is an important avenue for researchers to explore as they develop new osteoporosis treatments."

The biotechnology company, Amgen, has been working on such an antibody to block sclerostin.  The drug is now in Phase III clinical trials and might be available within the decade.

 

The research published in the journal Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism can be found here.