UMass researcher gets $788,000 to study bone strength, age-related loss

  • UMass campus

Published: 3/15/2019 6:15:37 PM

AMHERST — A UMass researcher was recently awarded a three-year, $788,810 National Science Federation grant to examine whether greater physical activity levels lead to greater bone strength and protect against age-related bone loss. BrigitteM. Holt, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, will serve as co-principal investigator of the study.

The research, to be conducted on the indigenous Tsimane people of lowland Bolivia, is the first to study the association between activity profiles and bone structure in a living pre-industrial population. Holt will also examine the extent to which osteogenic responses to habitual, physically intensive subsistence tasks are mediated by older age, gender differences, energy limitation and high pathogen burden.

“We hope that our findings will have implications for understanding the causes of osteoporosis, a massive global public health challenge, by identifying the risk factors for low bone mass beyond sedentary lifestyle,” Holt was reported as saying in a UMass press statement. “By providing knowledge of direct epidemiological relevance for Tsimane and other rural subsistence populations in the early-to-mid stages of modernization, this project will provide a baseline dataset that can be used by Bolivian and other government officials for future health service planning.”

“Given the project’s scope ... it is highly unlikely that a similar bone dataset will ever again be assembled in a pre-industrial population,” Holt says. “At the end of the project, we will make publicly available all anonymized data to qualified researchers, which will serve as an archive for future scientists no longer able to study impacts of modernization on activity profiles and bone structure in populations undergoing socioeconomic change.”

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