SCIENTISTS in Sheffield have discovered new ways to help detect and treat the debilitating brittle bone disease osteoporosis in women.
Osteoporosis affects half of all women and a fifth of men over 50 in the UK.
But Sheffield researchers have published a study which identifies a faulty gene that means some women lose nearly 10 times more bone mass than others.
And they think they could use drugs to counter the genetic problem to delay the onset of osteoporosis.
According to the paper, published in the European Journal of Human Genetics today, women with the faulty gene have an incorrect receptor for the energy molecule adenosine triphosphate- known as ATP.
Dr Alison Gartland, from the University of Sheffield, who is leading the research funded by Arthritis Research UK, said: “It’s when things go wrong that diseases such as osteoporosis develop - and then our bones can break as easily as snapping a breadstick.
“This research is really important as it may help identify women who are at more risk of developing bone diseases such as osteoporosis.
“Bone cells release different amounts of the energy molecule ATP depending on the type of mechanical loading or stress that they experience.
“We know that exercise is important to build strong healthy bones, but this latest research might explain how it works.
“If drugs can control the release of ATP during exercise it could help build bigger and stronger bones.”
The team also investigated way cells detect and control the amounts of ATP.
Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Chesterfield-based medical research charity Arthritis Research UK, said: “This exciting research shows there is a very strong link between particular genes with the rate of bone loss with age.
“The women in the study who had ‘bad’ type of a particular gene had almost ten times greater bone loss than women with a normal type of gene - a substantial difference. Follow-up studies could lead to great benefits for patients.”