Clemson awarded $2M to study radiation-induced bone loss

October 16, 2007

CLEMSON -- The department of bioengineering at Clemson University has received $2 million in grants to study radiation-induced bone loss. Both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and a branch of NASA, the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI www.nsbri.org), are primary contributors of funds to the study as a result of its two-dimensional application.

The study addresses bone loss that occurs as the result of radiation therapy for cancer treatment and from solar and cosmic radiation during space exploration.

NIH is contributing nearly $400,000 in grant money for Clemson researchers to develop an animal model that will enable them to study bone loss caused by radiation therapy, which could result in the kind of knowledge necessary to develop bone loss therapies to aid a large and increasing community of cancer survivors. Concurrently, NASA and NSBRI are funding a $1.6 million grant to support research that will examine the effect of space radiation on bone loss for astronauts.

The two dimensions of the bone loss study are similar in that both involve testing mouse and rat bones after exposure to radiation, but the two studies vary in the type and amount of radiation. Clinical doses of radiation treatment for pelvic cancers come largely from high dose X-rays compared to lower doses of proton and heavy ion radiation to which astronauts will be exposed in future spaceflight missions.

Ted Bateman, professor and director of the Osteoporosis Biomechanics Laboratory (www.batemanlab.com), is conducting the research to understand the molecular and cellular basis for bone loss caused by radiation. The knowledge that his lab develops will assist in the development of countermeasures applicable to both cancer treatment and spaceflight.

"These grants are a tremendous endorsement of our bone loss research," said Bateman. "This is an untreated problem in cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy, and also a problem we will see as space travel expands to the moon and Mars. Currently, astronauts on the International Space Station lose bone mass at five times the rate that women lose bone mass following menopause. Past studies confirm that patients who are undergoing radiation treatment for cancer experience more fractures, and hip fractures are particularly damaging to long-term health. We hope to provide data that contributes to prevention of these fractures, and ultimately to improve quality of life for cancer survivors."

A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported a 60-200 percent increase in hip fracture rates following radiation treatment for pelvic cancers in women. Breaking a hip often causes a large decline in quality of life and leads to death in approximately 20 percent of people with fractures. Procter and Gamble Pharmaceuticals is also supporting the clinical application of this research to examine prevention of fractures.

In the space application of the research, rapid bone loss occurs as a result of the weightless environment, and may be made worse by the space radiation environment astronauts will experience on extended missions to the moon and Mars.
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Related grant support includes a fellowship from NASA's Kennedy Space Center for graduate student Eric Bandstra to study space radiation and bone loss. Senior graduate student Jeff Willey has also received a post-doctoral fellowship from NSBRI to support his continued research with radiation-induced bone loss at Clemson and Wake Forest universities.

Collaborators on the NIH grant include Wake Forest University Medical Center. The NIH project is Grant Number R21AR054889 from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Collaborators on the NSBRI grant include NASA's Johnson Space Center and Loma Linda University Medical Center.

Clemson University

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