Osteoporosis drug may improve immune system

An osteoporosis drug zoledronic acid (Reclast) proven to save lives after hip fractures may do so by strengthening the body’s immune system, revealed by geriatrics researchers at Duke University Medical Center.

Researchers noted that the drug zoledronic acid (Reclast) is changing the body’s ability to fight off and recover from complications and illnesses after bone fractures.

In a previous study done in 2007, Duke researchers reported a 28% reduction in death among patients who received zoledronic acid (Reclast) within 90 days of surgery for a hip fracture. Zoledronic acid is a yearly intravenous injection of bisphosphonate that inhibits the progression of bone loss.

“The findings marked the first time an osteoporosis medication was shown to have an effect on mortality, but they didn’t tell us why the mortality rate was lower,” says Cathleen Colon-Emeric, MD, an associate professor of medicine at Duke.

In the current study, published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, Colon-Emeric and her colleagues report that the reduction in additional broken bones accounts for only eight percent of the mortality benefit. The link between osteoporosis and an increased risk of death has been observed for some time.

“People who received the drug experienced common complications at the same rate as those who didn’t,” says Colon-Emeric. But the people in the zoledronic acid group were better able to survive these events. “In particular, people with certain cardiac problems such as arrhythmias and pneumonias were much less likely to die from those conditions.”

“We know it affects the immune system and inflammation, and both of those are important in fighting infection and cardiovascular disease,” Colon-Emeric says. “It may be that the drug is changing the body’s ability to fight off and recover from those illnesses.” That idea will require confirmation in new studies.

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Source: Duke University Medical Center, USA

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