Make or Break: Your Bones and Your Genes

Genes behind osteoporosis

(RxWiki News) The expert advice on osteoporosis is that you can prevent the disease starting when you're young. What if you knew from birth whether you were at risk for fractures?

The largest genetic study on osteoporosis has identified 56 genetic variants that put people at high risk for osteoporosis.

Getting a handle on these bad actors is a step towards developing more effective, gene-based treatments for the disease, according to the study authors.

"Treat your bones right throughout your life."

The study was conducted by over a hundred scientists. It drew from the results of over 50 studies, and involved data from over 130,000 patients.

Studies had already identified 24 genetic variants that were associated with osteoporosis. The new study drew out and identified 32 more.

Dr. Douglas P. Kiel, Director of the Musculoskeletal Research Center and Senior Scientist at the Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, said the study also found that women who were carriers of these genetic variants had up to a 56 percent higher risk of having osteoporosis, as well as a 60 percent increased risk for all types of fractures.

Osteoporosis is known as a silent disease, that you may not know you have until you experience a fracture. Thinning, frail bones are a common ailment as people get older, and post-menopausal women are in the highest risk category.

But even if you are in the highest risk category, some women naturally have healthier bones than others. It helps if you've taken care of your bones by exercising and getting plenty of vitamin D and calcium, but genes also play a big role.

Genetic variants are variations in genes. Tiny variations in the order of your DNA sequence can determine whether you have one of the genetic variants that predispose humans to low bone mineral density – the marker for osteoporosis.

The hope with genetic research is that someday, doctors will be able to identify the cause of a patient's osteoporosis and start an individualized treatment plan. If the patient's disease is based on her genes, treatment that targets the gene might be more effective than a drug that aims at the symptom.

Another hope is that doctors will be able to identify people who are likely to develop osteoporosis early on, while they still have healthy bones, and work to prevent the disease before it starts.

The study was published in Nature Genetics in April 2012.

Review Date: 
April 19, 2012