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New Bone Cell Type Identified

Researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research have discovered a new type of bone cell that may yield novel therapeutic targets and strategies for osteoporosis and other skeletal diseases.

The cells, which the researchers have called osteomorphs, are found in the blood and bone marrow, and fuse together to form osteoclasts, which are specialized cells that break down bone tissue. The newly identified osteomorphs have a unique genomic profile that indicates potentially promising, and as yet unexplored targets for therapy.

“This discovery is a game-changer, which not only helps us understand bone biology but presents significant new in-roads for osteoporosis therapy,” said co-senior author Tri Giang Phan, PhD, who heads the Intravital Microscopy and Gene Expression Lab at the Garvan Institute. “Osteomorphs express several genes that seem to be linked to bone disease, which could lead scientists to entirely new ways to target osteoporosis.”

Phan is co-senior author of the team’s paper, which is published in Cell, and titled, “Ostoclasts recycle via osteomorphs during RANKL-stimulated bone resorption.”

The skeleton acts as the body’s scaffold, supporting our weight, allowing us to move, protecting vital organs, and controlling mineral homeostasis, the authors explained. It is also the site where blood cell components are formed. “Accordingly, it is a dynamic organ that is continuously remodeled throughout life in response to diverse environmental stimuli.”

At the microscopic level, the skeleton is constantly changing. To support bone growth, maintenance, and repair from damage, specialized cells on the bone surface break down old bone tissue (a process known as bone resorption) and then build it back up. “… remodeling is achieved by the coordinated action of osteoclasts that resorb old bone and osteoblasts that form new bone, activities that are coupled in both time and space,” the team noted. A change to that balance of resorption and rebuilding can lead to bone fragility, including osteoporosis, which is estimated to affect over 900,000 people in Australia alone.

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