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Scottish enzyme discovery leads to £1M of US research funding

The discovery of an enzyme responsible for bone calcification by scientists at the Roslin Institute in Midlothian has now attracted £1M of funding from the United States. The new project, which includes collaboration with labs in the USA, could help to improve the treatment of osteoporosis and hardened arteries.

Roslin scientists and colleagues at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla, California, are studying how enzymes control production of calcium phosphate in the skeleton. Up to 10 percent of the total bone mass is renewed by calcification every year - but elsewhere in the body calcification is a problem that can lead to kidney stones, hardened arteries or osteoarthritis. The research will help to understand why calcification normally only occurs in bone, and how this is controlled.

The identification of the role of the enzyme PHOSPHO1 in bone calcification at Roslin, a sponsored institute of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), has directly led to the £1M from the US National Institute of Health to take the research forward.

PHOSPHO1 plays a key role in healthy bone development by producing inorganic phosphate, as Dr Colin Farquharson from the Roslin Institute explained: "This is one of the first steps in a process where mineral crystals of calcium phosphate are produced and laid down in precise amounts within the bone's scaffolding."

The joint research project will be investigating how PHOSPHO1 interacts with other enzymes to control skeleton calcification and limit calcium production in other parts of the body.

Dr Farquharson explained: "By blocking PHOSPHO1 production, we can reduce initial mineralisation, or calcification, by up to 70 percent. But there must be other enzymes and pathways involved, to account for the remaining level of mineralisation."

Professor Julia Goodfellow, Chief Executive of BBSRC, said: "This US funded project shows the research at Roslin Institute is recognised internationally. This research will provide fundamental insights into the mechanisms of normal bone mineralisation, which could lead to therapeutic strategies for disorders such as osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and hardened arteries."

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