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To bring relief to the 28 million American men and women who suffer from osteoporosis, researchers are trying to understand why bone doesn't always perform as it was intended. Osteoporosis leads to a loss in bone density that results from the illness itself, not from a lack of skeletal loads.
The problem is caused in part by the natural aging process. Children and adolescents have rapidly growing bones that are strong and resilient. Bone actually continues to increase in mass until around the age of 35 when peak bone mass is reached. From then on, we begin to lose bone mass. For most people, the bone loss is gradual and the risk of fracture is not realized. For others, bone loss is so severe that the resulting osteoporosis creates a serious problem characterized by weak, brittle bones that are highly susceptible to fracture. Normal events that would not cause fractures in people with strong, healthy bones easily cause fractures in those suffering from osteoporosis.
More than $14 billion are spent annually on treating osteoporosis and related fractures, with many new treatments under development. Further research at SwRI and elsewhere, aimed at understanding the bone adaptation process and how it changes as we grow older, could lead to advanced pharmacological treatments for such skeletal disorders to allow older people to enjoy a more active lifestyle.
Published in the Fall 1998 issue of Technology Today®, published by Southwest Research Institute. For more information, contact Joe Fohn.