Bone diseases, like osteoporosis and arthritis, affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide. In the United States alone, half of all women and one quarter of all men will break a bone due to osteoporosis. Similarly, nearly a quarter of Americans suffer from some form of arthritis, and the prevalence is expected to increase. (Source: CDC). Combined, orthopedic diseases are the leading cause of pain in the world, leading to reduced mobility, independence, and overall quality of life, and contributing to the current opioid crisis.
The economic implications are massive, and growing. In 2013, direct-care expenses and lost productivity related to arthritis totaled more than $300 million. The impact of osteoporosis on patients, families, and the healthcare system exceeds $19 billion a year and is expected to surpass $25 billion the year 2025 (Source: CDC and NCBI).
Researchers at the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (ISCRM) are particularly interested in the genetics of bone diseases. While researchers have pinpointed hundreds of locations on the human genome associated with bone marrow density – a key indicator of osteoporosis – the specific genes that contribute to weakening bones have not been identified. Now, a team from the UW Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (ISCRM) is setting out to change that by conducting one of the most comprehensive functional analysis of osteoporosis-linked genes to date.
The Kwon Lab uses a 3D imaging technique, similar to a CAT scan, to see inside the bones in a zebrafish skeleton and using CRISPR gene editing technology to rapidly screen genes suspected of contributing to osteoporosis risk.
They hope that identifying the genes that code for osteoporosis will lead to clues about how to control bone regeneration, and bring relief to patients in the form of new treatments. To build a bridge between the lab and the clinic, The Kwon Lab is partnering with the College of Engineering and the Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine to build a program in joint regeneration and repair.