A naturally occurring protein may hold the key to treatments for osteoporosis, University of Sydney researchers have reported in this month's Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, the official journal of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research.
The announcement follows more than a decade of research into interferon gamma, a protein which is produced by the body's immune system and stem cells and that is also used as a treatment for hepatitis C in humans.
A team of scientists, led by Associate Professor Gustavo Duque, worked with menopausal mice, injecting low doses of interferon gamma in the small mammals. Tests revealed the mice had increased bone mass and decreased bone damage resulting from menopause-associated osteoporosis.
Associate Professor Duque says: "This is a major step in the development of a completely new type of medication for osteoporosis, which stimulates bone formation instead of stopping bone destruction.
"We are targeting the real problem by stimulating the bone forming cells to work and produce more bone which increases bone mass and hopefully preventing new fractures. With ageing, there is a reduction in bone formation that predisposes people to this painful condition," he said.
Osteoporosis affects an estimated 300 million people worldwide. One in three women over the aged of 50 will experience osteoporotic fractures, as will one in five men of a similar age.
Experts predict, despite the current treatments available, by 2050, the worldwide incidence of hip fracture in men is likely to increase by 310 percent and 240 percent in women.
"This increase is explained by the low rate of diagnosis and treatment for osteoporosis and also to some concerns about the potential side effects of the current treatments and to the similarities between the majority of the osteoporosis medications in terms of their anti-fracture effect and mechanism of action," Associate Professor Duque said.
"The Aging Bone Research Program is dedicated to understand and explaining the process of osteoporosis in older people and to developing comprehensive prevention strategies for falls and fractures in the elderly."
Explore further: Researchers uncover benefits of aspirin for treating osteoporosis