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Researchers to investigate if osteoporosis drugs prevent fracture healing

28th February 2011

Researchers in Edinburgh are to investigate whether drugs widely used to treat osteoporosis actually slow down or even prevent the healing process after a fracture.

A team at the University of Edinburgh have been awarded funding of more than £700,000 from medical research charity Arthritis Research UK over three years to run a trial to find out if a drug called alendronate affects the healing process in people with osteoporosis who have fractured their wrists.

Around 500 patients will be recruited at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield, and North Bristol NHS Trust and Bristol Royal Infirmary in Bristol, which jointly deal with more than 3,000 wrist fractures between them.

Wrist fractures account for 15% of all fractures suffered each year in the UK.

“Bisphosphonate drugs such as alendronate are commonly used in the treatment of osteoporosis but remarkably little is known about their effects on the healing and clinical outcome of fractures,” said principal investigator and international osteoporosis expert Stuart Ralston, Arthritis Research UK Professor of Rheumatology at the University of Edinburgh.

“If we find that alendronate has a negative effect on fracture healing, this could be important, as a patient might need to stop taking the drug after a fracture, and re-start only after the fracture has healed.”

Osteoporosis is a common bone disease that affects nearly three million people in the UK, and causes around 230,000 fractures a year. It is caused by reduced bone mineral density, and gets progressively more common with increasing age.

Bisphosphonates are effective treatments for osteoporosis and are the most widely prescribed drugs for the condition. They work mainly by preventing the breakdown of bone but also increasing bone mineral density.

Alendronate is the most widely prescribed bisphosphonate and reduces the risk of all fractures by about 40%. However, alendronate carries a warning that it may also increase fracture risk.

People taking part in the trial will be split into two groups. One group will take alendronate for the first six months after they suffered a wrist fracture and the other group will take a dummy treatment (placebo). The differences in fracture healing between the groups will then be compared by looking at x-rays for evidence of healing, which will be taken at regular intervals up to 8 weeks after the fracture has occurred.

 

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