Clemson University researcher reaches for the stars to prevent osteoporosis

05/27/04

CLEMSON -- A Clemson University researcher looks to astronauts in space to help prevent osteoporosis here on earth.

The National Space Biomedical Research Institute has announced that Clemson University professor of bioengineering Ted Bateman will receive $725,000 to study bone loss in astronauts.

The skeletal system is dynamic, constantly restoring old, damaged bone with newer bone. Osteoporosis develops when the restoration process breaks down. Gravity and weight-bearing exercise affects bone usage, which alters bone removal and replacement rates.

"When astronauts are in microgravity, they lose bone mass at a rate of .5 to 2 percent per month, approximately five times the rate a post-menopausal woman will lose bone," Bateman said.

Astronauts lose around 10 percent of their bone mass on a typical six- to nine-month space station mission. This accelerated rate of loss is an obstacle to long-term space missions, such as moon exploration and a two-and-a-half-year roundtrip to Mars.

In order to maintain health, astronauts need a treatment that will prevent bone loss in space and accelerate recovery afterwards. Recovery of bone mass takes two to three times as long as the length of the spaceflight, putting astronauts at greater risk for osteoporotic fractures. Bateman's team is looking for a way to prevent bone loss with a natural protein called osteoprotegerin, and to stimulate the formation of bone post-flight. The biotechnology company Amgen Inc., in Thousand Oaks, Calif., is providing the protein.

Bateman's research is an extension of an experiment on space shuttle flight STS-108 in Dec. 2001, in which he collaborated with Amgen and the University of Colorado to fly mice treated with osteoprotegerin to examine the protein's ability to prevent spaceflight-induced bone loss in a pre-clinical model.

"We're addressing astronaut health, but this research will ultimately impact millions of people here on Earth -- people who are bedridden, who have osteoporosis and paralysis," Bateman said.

An estimated 10 million people have osteoporosis, and another 34 million are at risk of developing the disease.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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