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Bonna Holladay, Dr. Mohamed Kamel and Dr. Mark Johnson


Osteoporosis research promising for baby boomers

As baby boomers – an enormous segment of American society – reach their late fifties and early sixties, much attention is focused on their health needs. One common condition of aging, osteoporosis, carries an increased risk of fractures of the hip, spine and wrist, and resulting physical limitations affecting quality of life.

Soon, relief may come as a result of research being carried out by UMKC’s Dr. Mark Johnson, Professor of Oral Biology at UMKC’s School of Dentistry.

“We are in an exciting position now to bring together various threads and pieces of research to create a new treatment model,” says Johnson. “Our discoveries are not a cure-all. Still, I believe our findings will be a significant component.”

An earlier project at Creighton University brought Johnson into contact with a family whose bones remained strong and healthy throughout their lives. Johnson and others traced the health history of this family for many generations and, using the techniques available for the molecular dissection of genetic conditions, discovered the naturally occurring genetic mutation responsible for their unique condition.

Normally, bones increase their mass in response to increased load. “We see this in athletes such as tennis players in their dominant arm,” Johnson states. His task is to find a way to send an artificial signal that will cause bones to increase in mass and strength, thereby reducing the risk of fracture.

“The human skeleton adapts constantly to the load environment,” Johnson notes, “but unless there is added mechanical loading, the pathway for increasing bone mass is kept in the ‘off’ position. We have discovered a pathway that is a critical component of the bone’s ability to respond to mechanical loading, and now we are trying to understand how it is triggered so that hopefully we can turn it on and off pharmaceutically.”

A $1.6 million award from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disorders, part of the National Institutes of Health, gives Johnson and his team more opportunities to find those triggers. Since osteoporosis will likely affect nearly half of all post-menopausal women and a significant number of men, a daunting health care price tag is growing exponentially as life expectancy increases. In light of these financial, emotional and physical costs, Johnson’s discoveries are all the more important.







For more on research interests, visit Dr. Johnson’s Web site.