Bear Bones Research

Courtesy of Nova

Scientists interested in fending off bone degradation have looked to one of the animal kingdom's most naturally gifted bone preservationists: the black bear. Researchers at the Pennsylvania State University recently investigated the ability of Ursus americanus to maintain bone integrity despite extended activity-free hibernation (S.W. Donahue et al., "Serum markers of bone metabolism show bone loss in hibernating bears," Clin Orthop, 408:295-301, March 2003). The researchers analyzed known markers of bone formation and bone loss in blood serum collected before and after hibernation. Normally, human bone loss is indicated by an increase in resorption and a decrease in bone formation. During hibernation, the bears showed increased resorption markers, but no change in formation markers. "They're showing increased loss and same levels of formation. So, there's some subtle suggestion that they're doing something different," says senior author Henry J. Donahue, a professor of orthopedics and...

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