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Bone complications due to cystic fibrosis have a genetic cause, according to an MUHC study

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Published: 6 Feb 2008

A recent study by Dr Christina Haston, a researcher of the McGill University Health Centre research Institute, sheds some new light on the bone problems that generally accompany cystic fibrosis.

A recent study by Dr Christina Haston, a researcher of the McGill University Health Centre research Institute, sheds some new light on the bone problems that generally accompany cystic fibrosis. Dr Haston’s study is pointing at genetics as contributing to this bone frailty, a finding which may have some implications in changing therapeutic practices. The article was published on February 1, 2008 in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

The medical community generally considers the bone fragility associated with cystic fibrosis to be multifactorial. It is thought to be a consequence of the mutation of the Cftr gene, the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis, of the pancreatic disease associated with cystic fibrosis and of the treatment with steroids to facilitate breathing.

The study showed that mice with a Cftr gene mutation have a bone mineral density and bone mass that are significantly lower than those of control mice. This difference occurs without the pancreatic insufficiency seen clinically and in the absence of steroid treatment. This conclusion clearly defines cystic-fibrosis-related bone problems as an additional pathology stemming from the Cftr mutation and not as a side effect of treatment. This may have some therapeutic consequences as it opens an avenue for defining a targeted treatment in mice.

Although the precise mechanism that links this mutation to bone development is unknown, studying these mice at different ages corresponding to childhood, adolescence and adulthood has shown that the bone structures of mice with the Cftr mutation get closer to the norm as the mice age; in other words, the genetic mutation seems to just slow bone growth and not prevent it. However, this partial conclusion requires further study to be confirmed.

Dr Christina Haston is cross-appointed as researcher in the Meakins-Christie Laboratories of the McGill University Health Centre research Institute, and she is also an assistant professor in the Faculty of Medicine of McGill University.

This study was funded by the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, Valorisation Recherche Quebec, and the Fonds de la Recherche en Santé du Québec.

The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI MUHC) is a world-renowned biomedical and health-care hospital research centre. Located in Montreal, Quebec, the institute is the research arm of the MUHC, a university health center affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University. The institute supports over 500 researchers, nearly 1000 graduate and post-doctoral students and operates more than 300 laboratories devoted to a broad spectrum of fundamental and clinical research. The Research Institute operates at the forefront of knowledge, innovation and technology and is inextricably linked to the clinical programs of the MUHC, ensuring that patients benefit directly from the latest research-based knowledge. For further details visit: www.muhc.ca/research.

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