New NIAMS grant targets osteoporosis in men

October 17, 1999

Osteoporosis, the major bone-weakening and fracture-causing disease which has long been studied in women, will now undergo major scrutiny in men with the award of a seven-center, $23.8 million grant by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) in partnership with the National Institute on Aging and the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The 7-year study, which will enroll and then follow some 5,700 men 65 years and older for an average of 4.5 years, will determine the extent to which the risk of fracture in men is related to bone mass and structure, biochemistry, lifestyle, tendency to fall, and other factors. The study will also try to determine if bone mass is associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer. Such a relationship already exists between high bone mass and breast cancer, another hormonally sensitive condition.

"Although the lifetime risk of older men for fractures of the hip, spine or wrist is considerable, the cause and pathology of osteoporosis in men hasn't received the research attention we'd like," said NIAMS Director Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D. "We're excited about this major study in men that will plow the same kind of fertile ground which has yielded so much for the health of women."

The new NIAMS-funded study centers include the University of California at San Francisco and at San Diego; Stanford University (Palo Alto, Calif.); the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; the University of Alabama at Birmingham; the Oregon Health Sciences University (Portland); and the University of Pittsburgh (Pa.). The grant, whose principal investigator is Eric Orwoll, M.D., at the Oregon Health Sciences University, is the result of a special solicitation for research applications on osteoporosis and fractures in men.

Although American women are four times as likely to develop osteoporosis as men, an estimated one-third of hip fractures worldwide occur in men. In addition, men are now much more likely to live into their eighth and ninth decade than 20 years ago. "As other causes of early mortality in men are reduced," says Joan McGowan, Ph.D., chief of the NIAMS Musculoskeletal Diseases Branch, "there is a need to focus on chronic disabling conditions like osteoporosis that will limit their independence."

Osteoporosis, a major threat for 28 million Americans, is a disease characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue, leading to bone fragility and an increased susceptibility to fractures--especially of the hip, spine, and wrist. It is the most prevalent of the bone diseases that affect Americans. Men tend to get it about 10 years later in life than women. This difference has been attributed to a higher peak bone mass at maturity and a more gradual reduction in sex steroid influence in aging men.
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The mission of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) is to support research into the causes, treatment and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases, the training of basic and clinical scientists to carry out this research, and the dissemination of information on research progress in these diseases. For more information about NIAMS, call their information clearinghouse at (301) 495-4484 or visit the NIAMS web site at http://www.nih.gov/niams .

To interview Dr. Orwoll, contact Martin Munguia, media coordinator, Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland, OR 97201; (503) 494-8231.

NIH/National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

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