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Large-scale genetic study of osteoporosis finds new treatment targets

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An international study has identified new targets for drugs that could be developed to treat and prevent osteoporosis.

The research — led by scientists from the University of Queensland in Australia and McGill University in Canada — was the largest ever genetic study of the age-related bone-thinning disease.

It involved more than 140,000 individuals from the UK Biobank, with bone mineral density assessments taken from ultrasounds of the heel.

The researchers identified 153 new gene variants associated with the loss of bone mineral density, which often results in fractures.

According to the UK’s National Osteoporosis Society, one in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 will break a bone as a result of osteoporosis.

In one notable finding of the study, UQ Diamantina Institute researchers Dr John Kemp and Professor David Evans found a strongly implicated gene GPC6, which had not previously been linked to osteoporosis.

“What makes this gene particularly interesting is that it encodes a protein that is present on the surface of cells, making it a potential candidate for a drug target,” Professor Evans said.

“Our studies show that removing it in animal models resulted in an increase in bone thickness.”

In all, the research triples the number of genes known to be implicated in the loss of bone mineral density. The new gene variants account for 12% of the heritability of the disease.

According to the University of Queensland, the results could be used to develop screening programmes in the future to identify individuals who would benefit most from preventive measures.

The findings have been published in Nature Genetics.

A further study has also been launched, involving half a million individuals, which is likely to shed more light on the genetics underlying the disease, and help prioritise genes most likely to lead to new treatments.

http://www.uq.edu.au/news/article/2017/09/largest-ever-genetic-study-marks-likely-osteoporosis-treatment-target

http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ng.3949.html?foxtrotcallback=true

https://nos.org.uk/