What's the link between astronauts and osteoporosis?

Invited speakers include international medical specialists and two astronauts: Canadian astronaut Dave Williams (who is both an emergency medicine physician and an astronaut, and the first Canadian to have lived and worked in space and in the ocean) and American astronaut Shannon Lucid, (who set two records for the longest duration for a woman in space and the longest duration for an American in space aboard the Russian Mir space station in 1996).

The symposium will be presented by the International Space Life Sciences Working Group whose members include the Canadian Space Agency, European Space Agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States, and the European national space agencies of Italy, France, Germany and Ukraine.

Astronauts face long periods of immobility, as do bedridden patients, with similar loss of bone strength.

"This is an important but under-recognized issue for bone health," said Professor René Rizzoli, chairman of the IOF Committee of Scientific Advisors, chairman, the IOF World Congress on Osteoporosis 2006 Scientific Committee and one of the speakers at the space symposium. "Bone is a living tissue, and must be 'stressed' to maintain strength. If bones are immobile for long periods, as occurs in space but also in bedridden patients, the individual will lose a substantial amount of muscle and bone mass, which may have serious repercussions."

"Bone loss in space is one of the major obstacles to long duration missions such as a voyage to Mars," added Dr. Nicole Buckley, Director for Life and Physical Sciences at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). "What we learn about bone loss in space helps better understand osteoporosis, a very serious medical problem on Earth." The Bone Research in Space Symposium is coordinated by the CSA.

The role of exercise and bone health is particularly timely, since the theme of IOF's World Osteoporosis Day 2005 (WOD) was "Move it or Lose it: the role of exercise in building and maintaining strong bones."

In a WOD publication released in October 2005, IOF noted that "We cannot depend on gravity alone to provide the mechanical stimulation that builds bone and prevents bone from wasting away – exercise also plays a key role. The publication cited an experiment in which "terranauts", who spent three months lying flat and not doing any exercise, lost up to 15% of their bone mineral density.

Pre-registration to the International Osteoporosis Foundation World Congress on Osteoporosis is available until May 2, 2006. Please go to http://www.osteofound.org/wco/2006/

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Osteoporosis, in which the bones become porous and break easily, is one of the world's most common and debilitating diseases. The result: pain, loss of movement, inability to perform daily chores, and in many cases, death. One out of three women over 50 will experience osteoporotic fractures, as will one out of five men 1, 2, 3. Unfortunately, screening for people at risk is far from being a standard practice. Osteoporosis can, to a certain extent, be prevented, it can be easily diagnosed and effective treatments are available.

The International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) is the only worldwide organization dedicated to the fight against osteoporosis. It brings together scientists, physicians, patient societies and corporate partners. Working with its 170 member societies in 84 locations, and other healthcare-related organizations around the world, IOF encourages awareness and prevention, early detection and improved treatment of osteoporosis.

Melton U, Chrischilles EA, Cooper C et al. How many women have osteoporosis? Journal of Bone Mineral Research, 1992; 7:1005-10

Kanis JA et al. Long-term risk of osteoporotic fracture in Malmo. Osteoporosis International, 2000; 11:669-674 Melton LJ, et al. Bone density and fracture risk in men. JBMR. 1998; 13:No 12:1915

IOF World Congress on Osteoporosis, held every two years, is the only global congress dedicated specifically to all aspects of osteoporosis. Besides the opportunity to learn about the latest science and developments in diagnosis, treatment and the most recent socio-economic studies, participants have the chance to meet and exchange ideas with other physicians from around the world. All aspects of osteoporosis will be covered during the Congress which will comprise lectures by invited speakers presenting cutting edge research in the field, and a large number of oral presentations and poster sessions selected from submitted abstracts. More than 70 Meet the Expert Sessions covering many practical aspects of diagnosis and management of osteoporosis are also on the program.

The Canadian Space Agency, established in 1989, is responsible for coordinating all civilian space-related scientific and technological research policies and programs for the Government of Canada. The CSA leverages international cooperation to champion world-class scientific research and industrial development for the benefit of humanity.

For more information on osteoporosis and IOF please visit: www.osteofound.org


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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