About 10 million Americans are estimated to have osteoporosis, while another 34 million have low bone mass and could get the disease.
Osteoporosis means that the bone mineral has decreased to the point where a person has an increased chance of breaking a bone or having tiny fractures in the vertebra that can result in a loss of height or a hunched-over appearance. The image of an elderly, stooped-over woman may come to mind when most people think of osteoporosis.
Generally, women begin bone density testing at age 50. However, due to changes in diet and exercise, women are being diagnosed with osteoporosis at a much younger age.
These days, young children and teenagers drink more soda than milk. Previous generations were pushed to drink a lot of milk and eat a lot of dairy—a great way to absorb calcium, much needed for developing strong bones.
Today, young children and teenagers are more sedentary. Exercise is a key to good bone health, especially weight-bearing exercises like weight and resistance training and walking and even running if possible.
Now, researchers at Florida State University are looking to develop new technologies to replace bone mass lost to osteoporosis, as well as to treat traumatic bone injuries like those suffered in automobile accidents or combat. Professor Teng Ma is growing human adult stem cells in a laboratory device he has patented known as a perfusion bioreactor. In the bioreactor, a bone cell will divide and produce a perfect copy of itself. As these cells increase, he combines them with a biomaterial to create tissue similar in structure and density to that of actual bone. This novel approach overcomes the donor limitation, reduces immune response, and increases the rate of effectiveness for defect repair and healing. Although this stem cell research is very promising, it is still a long-term proposition with years of experimental and regulatory obstacles to overcome.
Illustration: MicroSoft clipart.
FSU News (05/21/07)
Times West Virginian (05/27/07)