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Hope for millions battling osteoporosis as scientists identify 500 genes that may play a role

Hope for millions battling osteoporosis as scientists identify 500 genes that could help unlock a cure for the agonising condition

  • Over 300 of the genes were newly discovered in the largest analysis of data
  • There are too few, and too expensive, treatment options, researchers said
  • The new data could develop targeted therapy to reduce fractures  

Millions of osteoporosis patients have been given hope as scientists have discovered scores of genes that may be to blame.

Researchers analysed data from 426,000 individuals to pinpoint 518 that they fear play a role in the loss of bone mineral density.

The findings, made by a team of academics in Canada, offer fresh hope of finding a cure for the agonising condition. 

Scientists in Canada have identified 518 genes that could help explain the development of osteoporosis and lead to better treatment, and less fractures

Current treatment options are costly and have unfavourable side effects, claim the researchers from the Jewish General Hospital. 

But knowing more about the genetic factors involved in the condition could allow scientists to find a more targeted and simplified treatment.  

Osteoporosis affects around three million people living in the UK and around 44 million in the US, according to figures.   

The researchers, led by Dr John Morris, compiled the genetics that are associated with bone mineral density (BMD) using people in the UK Biobank. 

BMD, which can be tested and compared to the bone density of a healthy individual, is one of the most clinically relevant factors in diagnosing osteoporosis.  

The newly identified genes, of which 300 have been seen for the first time, explain 20 per cent of the genetic variance associated with osteoporosis. 


Turmeric may prevent osteoporosis, research revealed in May last year.

The popular Indian spice helps to build and repair bone mass in the elderly, a study by Genoa University found.

Taking a turmeric supplement improves bone density by up to seven per cent over six months, the research adds.

A compound in turmeric, known as curcumin, is thought to balance out cells that remove ageing parts of bone before it is replaced, according to previous findings.

Almost three quarters of elderly people suffer declining bone density, which can cause osteoporosis and is responsible for around 65,000 potentially fatal fractures each year in the UK. 

Low bone mass density affects nearly 44 million people in the US.

The researchers analysed otherwise healthy men and women with an average age of 70 who were all suffering declining bone density.

Bones in their heels, jaws and fingers were measured at the start of the study using ultrasound scanning. 

Turmeric was combined with soy lecithin to prevent it from being destroyed by the stomach; allowing it to reach the small intestine where it is absorbed. 

Animal tests have already proven the validity of some of these genes. 

Lead author Dr Brent Richards said: ‘Our findings represent significant progress in highlighting drug development opportunities.’  

Treatment for osteoporosis varies from person to person depending on the level of bone density, age and risk of fracture.

‘We currently have few treatment options,’ Dr Richards said.  

‘Many patients who are at high risk of fractures do not take current medications because of fear of side effects.’

These include irritation to the throat, swallowing problems, stomach pain, hot flushes, leg cramps and a potential increased risk of blood clots, according to the NHS.

Dr Richards said: ‘Notwithstanding that it is always better to prevent than to treat. We can prescribe injectables that build bone, but they are prohibitively expensive. 

‘We have medications that prevent loss of bone, but they must be taken on a strict schedule.

‘As a result, the number of people who should be treated, but are not, is high. 

‘Therefore, we believe that we will have greater success in getting patients to follow a treatment regimen when it can be simplified.’ 

The paper was published in Nature Genetics.  

Osteoporosis is a common condition that weakens bones, making them fragile and more likely to break. 

Losing bone is a normal part of the ageing process, but some people lose bone density much faster than normal. 

Having a low body mass index, long-term use of steroids, beginning the menopause earlier and a family history of the disease are all risk factors.  

Fractures can have severe consequences, including the risk of mortality and impose major burdens of hospitalisation and extended rehabilitation.