Human ancestors could hold the key to early diagnosis of bone disease
The UK has the highest rate of Pagets bone disease in the world, but now researchers from Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), the Pagets Association and Norton Priory Museum Trust are analysing ancient bones to better understand the progression of the disease, which may permit earlier diagnosis.
Pagets disease disrupts the normal cycle of bone renewal and repair, causing bones to become weakened and deformed. It is known to affect up to 1 in 12 older men and 1 in 20 women over the age of 80. But symptoms often only show at the later stages.
As Diana Wilkinson, Specialists Pagets Nurse, of the Pagets Association explains: The North West of England is known to have the highest prevalence of Pagets disease and evidence of the condition has been found in 1 in 20 skeletons, believed to date from the 13th to the 15th centuries, unearthed in an archaeological dig at the Priory.
LJMU houses a collection of over 1,000 skeletons and is one of the few universities to have a dedicated x-ray machine, thus enhancing research capabilities to check for early stage disease within the bone.
Carla L. Burrell, a volunteer at Norton Priory and LJMU PhD Student, will be presenting at the Pagets Association Information Day held in Derby, 8th May 2015 (www.paget.org.uk). As Carla describes: What we have found is that Pagets bone disease occurs at a younger age than previously thought long before symptoms come to full effect, which means that diagnosis could take place for young people and treatment could start earlier.
Carlas talk at the Information Day, An osteoarchaeologists perspective on Paget's Disease, will be discussing the forthcoming research on the identification and occurrence of Pagets Disease in the human remains collection.
Dr James C. Ohman, Senior Lecturer in Palaeoanthropology at LJMU, says: Our research on the skeletal collections housed at LJMU has greatly expanded over the last few years, with the initial growth in postgraduate students beginning with me taking on four students including Carla. In addition to Pagets Disease, our research has now expanded to include studies on human growth and development, nutrition and diet, multidisciplinary approaches, and new accurate method for estimating sex from the pelvis. The impact of these studies improve our understanding of past populations, the identification of human remains, and may be used to support the work being done by the Pagets Association.
Norton Priory houses about 130 medieval skeletons, six have been identified with Pagets Disease. Lynn Smith, Senior Keeper, has made possible a collaboration with LJMU to reanalyse these skeletons and further examine the disease. Additionally, a £3.7m Heritage Lottery Fund project is now underway to conserve the undercroft and redevelop Norton Priory Museum Trust. The new museum will allow the human remains being analysed as a part of this project to be displayed as never before. Professor Bill Fraser, Trustee of the Pagets Association, is providing scientific advice to the team at Norton Priory and scientists at LJMU, the University of Nottingham, and the University of Leicester.
Professor Roger Francis, Chairman of the Pagets Association, explains: "The intention is to perform the first molecular analyses on some of the remains with the hope of identifying why there was such a high prevalence of Pagets Disease at Norton Priory. While others at Norton Priory and LJMU are helping to bring the remains to life by providing insights into what life was like in the past for those affected by Pagets Disease. The team at Norton Priory were keen to involve those afflicted with the condition, and so we are delighted that our Specialists Pagets Nurse, Diana, was invited with the Manchester Pagets Support Group to Norton Priory in order to assist their team in making the proposed new displays relevant to modern day audiences."