Bone Loss Now Can Be Reversed

The process of aging is often accompanied by bone loss resulting in osteoporosis. Now a new drug may help turn back the clock by stimulating new bone growth and restoring lost bone mass. CBS News Correspondent John Roberts reports.

When John Glenn returned to space in October, he tested how a new drug, called Alx1-11 which might prevent the bone loss astronauts suffer in zero gravity.

Back on earth Jane Berberich knows how well it works. She was one of the first people to test how it might reverse the bone loss of osteoporosis.

"We found that her bone mass had increased by 10 percent in her spine and about one to two percent in her hip," says Dr. Roy Fleischmann.

Those increases are more than double what currently available drugs usually achieve.

Alx1-11
works by mimicking hormones produced by the parathyroid glands, hormones that help regulate the ongoing process of renewing bone. As a woman ages, more bone is broken down than is replaced leading to a loss in density.

While drugs like estrogen slow the breakdown process, Alx1-11 puts the rebuilding phase into overdrive, rapidly increasing density and strength.

"Potentially, if we can work it out correctly, parathyroid hormone would be the first of the agents that actually cures the disease of osteoporosis in the spine," says Dr. Robert Lindsay of the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

It is still not yet known how long women would have to stay on the drug. Two years after Jane Berberich's part in the testing ended her osteoporosis is back to where it started.

Researchers also want to make it easier to take than the current daily injection. But it appears Alx1-11 is a promising new way to attacking osteoporosis without the cancer risks associated with estrogen.

Reported By John Roberts
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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