Mimi Murphy's Medical Breakthroughs: Heart Medicine for Bones

Medical Breakthroughs
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Osteoporosis and low bone mass are a major public health threat for about 44 million Americans age 50 and older. While diet and exercise can help prevent the development of the condition in many, others need more help. Now a common heart medication may be what it takes to keep bones strong.

A healthy bone and the bone of a woman with osteoporosis look entirely different. Each year, the condition causes 1.5 million fractures with nearly $20 billion spent on medical care.

"It's a tremendous public health problem. The most important thing is it's preventable," said endocrinologist Sunil Wimalawansa, M.D., Ph.D., of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J.

Approved medications, hormone therapy or calcium can slow the natural breakdown of bone. Dr. Wimalawansa hopes the heart medication nitroglycerin will do even more.

"This is the only drug that seems to have an effect on the formation at the same time. No other drug has both functions at any given time, so this is unique," Dr. Wimalawansa said.

And it has other benefits.

"It's about 20-times cheaper than any of the approved drugs right now so economically, it's good for the patient. Secondly, there are very little adverse effects," said Dr. Wimalawansa.

Patients like Judy Hanes are excited to have an alternative to hormones.

"I think this method is a little bit healthier than the hormone replacement," Hanes said.

Two hundred study participants in the Nitroglycerin as an Option: Value in Early Bone Loss (NOVEL) study will rub the ointment on their body once a day and take calcium supplements. Regular bone density scans will show how well it works.

Hanes is a health-conscious physical education teacher and does what she can to keep herself well.

"I do exercise a little bit with the students by helping them to stretch and become more aware of healthy eating habits, which I do try to follow as well," said Hanes.

And if studies continue to show success, she'll have another way to keep her bones strong.

The study will continue for three years and will enroll 200 women between ages 40 and 60. The Robert Wood Johnson Medical School is the only study center.

This article was reported by Ivanhoe.com, who offers Medical Alerts by e-mail every day of the week.

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If you would like more information, please contact:

The NOVEL Study Group
UMDNJ -- Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
125 Paterson St., CAB -- 5200
P.O. Box 19
New Brunswick, NJ 08903-0019
(732) 235-8938