A landmark study published this past December in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that millions of American women age 50 and older who have not been tested for osteoporosis (porous bones) may be at an increased risk of suffering serious bone fractures. The National Osteoporosis Risk Assessment (NORA), the nation’s largest such study to date, tested more than 200,000 post-menopausal women over a one-year period and found a high incidence of undetected cases of either osteoporosis or pre-osteoporotic low bone mass.

According to the National Institutes of Health, Asian women are at particularly high risk of developing this disease; however, women of all races, including African Americans and Hispanics, are also at risk. Moreover, research studies recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) indicate that many patients being treated for asthma or prostate cancer—both diseases that disproportionately affect African Americans and other people of color—are also at increased risk for osteoporosis because their medications block calcium intake, which can lead to loss of bone density.

Here’s a look at some resources that are currently available, or are in the clinical trial stage, to help prevent and treat osteoporosis in minority patients:

• Detection: Quidel Corp., a provider of rapid point-of-care diagnostic technologies, offers two tests designed to help health care providers detect and treat low bone mass and osteoporosis in the disease’s early stages. The QUS-2 Calcaneal Ultrasonometer is a battery-operated, lightweight portable device that measures bone mass. It is used as an aid in diagnosing osteoporosis, identifying patients with low bone mass and predicting atraumatic fracture risk.

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Metra DPD, a clinical laboratory test, is intended to identify elevated bone resorption that is associated with osteoporosis and other metabolic bone diseases, in both women and men. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently established mandatory national Medicare coverage for Metra DPD for patients who are diagnosed with primary or secondary osteoporosis. This is a major step forward in making early detection of osteoporosis more accessible, because some Medicare carriers had previously refused to reimburse patients for the test. For more information, contact Quidel Corp. at (800) 524-6318 or visit www.quidel.com.

• Treatment: Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., maker of the cancer treatment drug zoledronic acid (marketed under the brand name Zometa), is currently testing the medicine’s effectiveness in a new application: treatment of osteoporosis. The results of Phase II clinical trials, published in the February 27 issue of NEJM, indicate that zoledronic acid significantly increases bone density in women with post-menopausal osteoporosis. Zoledronic acid, an intravenous bisphosphonate, was also found to cause less gastrointestinal side effects than traditional oral bisphosphonates.

In addition, says the study’s principal investigator, Dr. Ian Reid of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, “Oral bisphosphonates, although effective in treating osteoporosis, have complicated dosing requirements that can lead to [patient] compliance problems. An effective therapy that offers the convenience of once-yearly intravenous dosing would represent a major advance in osteoporosis treatment.” Novartis is now conducting an extensive Phase III study to determine zoledronic acid’s efficacy in reducing the risk of osteoporotic fractures in both men and women. More information is available from Novartis Corp. at (888) 669-6682 or www.novartis.com.

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