Mix and match

A mathematical model of osteoporosis drugs suggests that certain treatment combinations could offer patients greater benefits.

The equation symbolising the mathematical model of osteoporosis overlaid on an image showing osteoporotic fractures (red) in the thoracic spine. Image credit: Spine x-ray image by Friederike Thomasius; image collage created by David Jörg (CC BY 4.0)

Our bones are constantly being renewed in a fine-tuned cycle of destruction and formation that helps keep them healthy and strong. However, this process can become imbalanced and lead to osteoporosis, where the bones are weakened and have a high risk of fracturing. This is particularly common post-menopause, with one in three women over the age of 50 experiencing a broken bone due to osteoporosis.

There are several drug types available for treating osteoporosis, which work in different ways to strengthen bones. These drugs can be taken individually or combined, meaning that a huge number of drug combinations and treatment strategies are theoretically possible. However, it is not practical to test the effectiveness of all of these options in human trials. This could mean that patients are not getting the maximum potential benefit from the drugs available.

Jörg et al. developed a mathematical model to predict how different osteoporosis drugs affect the process of bone renewal in the human body. The model could then simulate the effect of changing the order in which the therapies were taken, which showed that the sequence had a considerable impact on the efficacy of the treatment. This occurs because different drugs can interact with each other, leading to an improved outcome when they work in the right order.

These results suggest that people with osteoporosis may benefit from altered treatment schemes without changing the type or amount of medication taken. The model could suggest new treatment combinations that reduce the risk of bone fracture, potentially even developing personalised plans for individual patients based on routine clinical measurements in response to different drugs.