Professor Wins $2.6M Grant to Study Bone Health Among Men

Three Puerto Rican men smiling
A new research study led by Prof. Katherine Tucker will evaluate bone strength and nutrition among Puerto Ricans who live in the United States mainland.

By Karen Angelo

Osteoporosis, a bone disease that can result in painful fractures – typically in the back, hip or wrist – is often thought of as a woman’s disease. But men get it too, just usually later in life than women. 

Segment the population even further, and researchers find that Puerto Rican men who live in the U.S. mainland are at much greater risk of thinning bones than previously thought. 

To evaluate bone health risks among this growing underserved population, the National Institutes of Health has awarded Prof. Katherine Tucker of the Biomedical and Nutritional Sciences Department a $2.6 million grant. Along with Asst. Profs. Kelsey Mangano and Sabrina Noel, she will assess bone strength and nutrition among Puerto Rican men and women. They expect the research could lead to improvements in treatments for all people who suffer from osteoporosis. 

This study is among the first of its kind to examine whether differences in bone strength between adults, with and without Type 2 diabetes, are due in part to compounds called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). 

Found in many foods and formed when meats are grilled, roasted, seared, fried or baked, AGEs contribute to increased oxidant stress and inflammation, which are linked to the recent epidemics of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

“Studying the relation of AGEs to bone health is novel among humans,” says Tucker, who also leads the Center for Population Health. “We expect that the research results will provide insight for developing interventions to prevent bone loss and fracture risk in adults.” 

The research team will study about 800 participants in the Boston Puerto Rican Health Study Projects. For the past 12 years, researchers have been following the nutrition and health risk factors of 1,500 Puerto Ricans living in the Boston area for a series of in-depth studies. 

Participants in this study will complete a questionnaire, provide blood samples and get bone scans. In addition to the bone mineral density test that measures bone loss, the research team will use a new approach that assesses bone strength. 

“We know now that the bone density scans that we use today do not capture the full extent of fracture risk,” says Tucker. “In our study, we’ll be using microindentation, a new test that measures bone material strength. Using this new method in combination with the bone mineral density test will give us a better picture of bone health as it relates to nutrition and other health factors.” 

Early this year, Tucker also received a $3.9 million NIH grant to study the effect of highly processed foods on dementia in this same population.