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Boise State Biology Researcher Part of Breakthrough Bone Study with Great Diagnostic/Therapeutic Potential

Boise State biology professor Julia Oxford (right) is part of ongoing studies aimed at understanding more about how the proteins involved in the mechanisms of bone formation and healing work. Students across several disciplines are involved in her research, including a collaborative project with significant diagnostic and therapeutic potential related to diseases such as osteoporosis.

Julia Oxford, a biology professor and director of the Biomolecular Research Center at Boise State University, helped discover an important mechanism in the process by which bones build and maintain strength and elasticity. The new knowledge could play a role in improving methods of preserving bone strength with age, which could have a significant impact in treating osteoporosis and other diseases that can lead to decreased bone mineral content, from HIV and epilepsy to juvenile diabetes.

Published in the Jan. 21 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the study was conducted by a collaborative group of researchers including Oxford and led by Jeff Gorski, a professor of oral biology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Oxford explained that the strength and hardness of bone is the result of a process called mineralization, where calcium phosphate crystals produced by bone-forming cells accumulate in the fibrous protein matrix that is the scaffolding of the bone itself.

“We found that mineralization depends on a specific enzyme called SKI-1, though it is just one of several proteins we’re looking at that play important roles in essential biological mechanisms,” she said. “Our growing understanding of these mechanisms could have significant implications in helping clinicians monitor bone health as well as diagnose and treat debilitating bone diseases.”

By studying bone cells in culture dishes, researchers in the collaborative study demonstrated that the deactivation of SKI-1 means bone mineralization cannot occur. They alternatively observed that if the actions of SKI-1 are stimulated, more mineralization takes place, triggering production of the proteins that form the bone’s mineralized matrix. Scientists may be able to use such enzyme regulation to stimulate bone formation after fracture.

Boise State students of biology and chemistry continue to collect data for the study. Those most directly involved in Oxford’s research are Ben Davis, Stephanie Frahs, Anthony Hafez, Jon Reeck, Luke Woodbury, Bryan Martin, Chris Mallory and Dawn Mikelonis.

A recently awarded $750,000 NASA EPSCoR grant will support a related project led by Oxford in collaboration with Boise State biology professors Cheryl Jorcyk, Troy Rohn and Kristen Mitchell. It will build on years of work supported by the Idaho State Board of Education (SBOE).

Since 2007, the SBOE has contributed $1 million to Boise State for the formation of the Musculoskeletal Research Institute, co-directed by Oxford and biomedical engineering professor Michelle Sabick.

“We have been working to grow musculoskeletal research strength in Idaho, and the State Board is providing crucial infrastructure,” Oxford said.

Llearn more about the findings of the study featured in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

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Media Contact: Erin Ryan, University Communications, (208) 426-4910, erinryan@boisestate.edu

About Boise State University
As an emerging metropolitan research university of distinction, Boise State University plays a crucial role in the region’s economic development and famed quality of life. Idaho’s largest institution of higher education offers nearly 200 degrees and certificates in seven colleges. While remaining committed to the strong teaching legacy that has resulted in 11 Idaho Professor of the Year awards since 1990, Boise State’s added emphasis on innovation and creativity is fueling the fastest growing research program in Idaho.

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