Scientists looking for ways to reduce bone loss in astronauts claim to have found a novel way of improving the bone health of cancer patients undergoing radiation treatment.
"Our studies indicate significant bone loss at the radiation levels astronauts will experience during long missions to the moon or Mars," said Ted Bateman, a member of NSBRI's Musculoskeletal Alterations Team.
The study conducted over mouse models has shown that bone loss begins within days of radiation exposure through activation of bone-reducing cells called osteoclasts.
Under normal conditions, these cells work with bone-building cells, called osteoblasts, to maintain bone health.
"Our research challenges some conventional thought by saying radiation turns on the bone-eating osteoclasts. If that is indeed the case, existing treatments, such as bisphosphonates, may be able to prevent this early loss of bone," he added.
He said even though the research is being performed to protect the health of NASA astronauts, cancer patients, especially those who receive radiation therapy in the pelvic region, could benefit from the research.
"We know that older women receiving radiotherapy to treat pelvic tumors are particularly vulnerable to fracture, with hip fracture rates increasing 65 percent to 200 percent in these cancer patients," said Bateman.
Once a person loses bone, their long-term fracture risk depends on their ability to recover lost bone mass.
For older cancer patients, early introduction of bisphosphonates and other forms of treatment could help greatly since the process of regaining bone mass can be more difficult due to lower activity levels.