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HKBU Chinese medicine study, published in Nature Communications, discovers new target for osteoporosis treatment in elderly women

16 Mar 2016

Professor Lu Aiping (second from right), Dr Zhang Ge (right), Dr Li Defang (second from left), and Mr Liu Jin are delighted that their research provides a new target for osteoporosis treatment in elderly women
Professor Lu Aiping (second from right), Dr Zhang Ge (right), Dr Li Defang (second from left), and Mr Liu Jin are delighted that their research provides a new target for osteoporosis treatment in elderly women

A research team from the School of Chinese Medicine (SCM) recently conducted a study on osteoporosis in elderly women. It was found that the decreased bone formation has a close correlation with osteoblastic activity and the osteoclast-secreted exosomal miR-214-3p in elderly women with osteoporosis. This study not only provided a new understanding of the pathogenesis of osteoporosis induced by age-related bone loss in elderly women, but also supplied a novel strategy and new target for osteoporosis treatment. The results have been published online in the highly reputed journal Nature Communications,
March 2016 issue (

Co-corresponding authors of the paper are Professor Lu Aiping, Dean of SCM and Director of the Institute for Advancing Translational Medicine in Bone & Joint Diseases (TMBJ), and Dr Zhang Ge, Associate Director of the Teaching and Research Division of SCM, Director of the Technology Development Division of SCM, and Associate Director of TMBJ, who are also jointly in charge of the study. Meanwhile, Dr Li Defang, Research Assistant Professor and Mr Liu Jin, PhD student who have contributed equally were listed as co-first authors.

Professor Lu Aiping said that the dynamic equilibrium between osteoclasts and osteoblasts is an important factor for maintaining the integrity of skeletal structure, which is comparable to the balance of yin and yang advocated by traditional Chinese medicine. The strengthening or weakening of either cells will cause an imbalance of yin and yang, leading to the occurrence of skeletal diseases. The researchers found that the elevated miR-214-3p within osteoclasts could be secreted in exosome-encapsulated form and inhibits the activity of osteoblasts, resulting in bone loss.

Dr Zhang Ge mentioned that in order to further confirm whether miR-214-3p was involved in the signal transduction between osteoclasts and osteoblasts, the multi-disciplinary research team not only designed osteoclast-specific miR-214-3p knock-in mice, but also used the osteoclast-targeted delivery system constructed by the research team to deliver miR-214-3p antagonist (antagomir-214-3p) to osteoclasts. The above experiments were performed to determine the effect of miR-214-3p on bone formation through increasing or reducing the miR-214-3p.

Dr Li Defang and Mr Liu Jin indicated that miR-214-3p could be considered as a target for the treatment of skeletal diseases which result in bone loss. Their next step is to search for potential therapeutic natural products to help elderly women with osteoporosis. The research team will use molecular docking to screen the targeted inhibitor of miR-214-3p or the upstream transcription factor from the compound database of Chinese herbal medicine in the School of Chinese Medicine.
This multi-disciplinary study involves many HKBU scholars, including Professor Chris Wong from the Department of Biology, Professor Bian Zhaoxiang, Dr Yang Zhijun, Dr Zhu Hailong and Dr Guo Baosheng from the School of Chinese Medicine, researchers from the University’s Institute of Integrated Bioinformedicine and Translational Science, HKBU Institute of Research and Continuing Education, and HKBU (Haimen) Institute of Science and Technology.