Naturally occurring protein key to bone formation?

Washington: A naturally occurring protein may hold the key to a treatment for osteoporosis by increasing bone formation -- unlike available drugs which just attempt to
reduce loss, say scientists.

This announcement by a team at Sydney University in Australia follows over a decade of research into interferon gamma, a protein which is produced by the body`s immune system and stem cells, and is used as a treatment for hepatitis C.

For their research, the scientists, led by Professor Gustavo Duque, worked with menopausal rodents, injecting low doses of interferon gamma in the small mammals. Tests revealed the mice had increased bone mass and decreased bone damage
resulting from menopause-associated osteoporosis.

Prof Duque said: "This is a major step in development of a completely new type of medication for osteoporosis, which stimulate bone formation instead of stopping bone destruction.

"We are targeting the real problem by stimulating the bone forming cells to work and produce more bone which increases bone mass and hopefully preventing new fractures.
With ageing, there is a reduction in bone formation that predisposes people to this painful condition."

Osteoporosis -- the thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density over time -- affects an estimated 300 million people worldwide.

Experts predict, despite the current treatmentsavailable, by 2050, the worldwide incidence of hip fracture in men is likely to rise by 310 percent and 240 percent in women.

"This increase is explained by the low rate ofdiagnosis and treatment for osteoporosis and also to some concerns about the potential side effects of the current treatments and to the similarities between the majority of the osteoporosis medications in terms of their anti-fracture effect and mechanism of action," Prof Duque said.

The findings have been published in the latest edition of the US `Journal of Bone and Mineral Research`.