In a few years, better treatments for osteoporosis could become available. As people age, their bones become weak and their sex hormone levels decrease.
The most common treatment is hormone replacement therapy. But this can increase the risk of cancer, especially in women.
At the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, Stavros Manolagas and Starvroula Kousteni have created forms of sex hormones that will keep bone cells alive, at the same time not increase the risk of cancer.
This was done by discovering that oestrogen and testosterone can trigger more than one kind of signal in cells. It was known that when oestrogen binds to receptors in cells, it activates a signal that changes the gene expression. The team found that in bone cells, oestrogen can also trigger a signal preventing the cells from dying thereby prolonging their lives and keeping the bones strong.
This signal acts directly, much faster than gene expression, taking minutes rather than hours.The team developed a calss of compounds that produce only the fast signals.
Rats, given the new compound show up to 70% increase in bone strength. According to Kousteni it could even strengthen the bones in healthy people.