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Cambridge University Science Magazine
In findings that could have significant implications for how widespread diseases such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis are treated, they have shown that sugars such as glycosaminoglycans are particularly important in bone mineralisation – a process which affects how strong bones become. These molecules had been previously overlooked by scientists in favour of focussing on the proteins in bone, since many other diseases arise as a result of defective proteins.

Dr David Reid and Erica Wise, members of the Duer group based at the Department of Chemistry, are confident that these sugars play an important role in bone mineralisation but stressed “we’re not saying the proteins are not important”. They said that their research “explained lots of previously unexplained observations”.

Reid and Wise mentioned that injections of these molecules were used on animals with positive therapeutic effects, but when asked whether this was a potential treatment for humans stated that “more research was needed” and warned that the media had over-inflated some of their claims. Other possible applications of the work include in materials and sport science.

They told Varsity that the paper had been rejected by Science and Nature for not being of wide appeal, and said they had argued that the research was important given the number of sufferers of bone diseases. Their findings were ultimately published in The Chemistry of Materials last week.

When asked where the group would go in the future, they said that there was a lot of other bone structure work to be undertaken, but that they were also hoping to branch out to other tissues and biomaterials based on calcium phosphate.

The research was undertaken with funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) in collaboration with the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, and the BAM Federal Institute of Materials Research and Testing, Berlin.

Written by James Shepherd

(Article written for Varsity Science, and republished with permission)