Wake Forest researchers receive $1.5 million NIH grant to study bone health following bariatric surgery


Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine have been awarded a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The grant will support a study on bone microarchitecture in patients following bariatric surgery.

With this funding, Wake Forest University School of Medicine will collaborate with Virginia Tech to introduce a virtual biopsy using an advanced technique called high-resolution peripheral quantitative computed tomography (HR-pQCT) into an ongoing randomized controlled trial.

The clinical trial, named Strategies to Reduce the Onset of Sleeve Gastrectomy Associated Bone Loss (STRONG BONES), aims to determine if risedronate, a medication for osteoporosis, can mitigate the bone and muscle loss that commonly occurs after weight-loss surgery. This study is a joint effort involving researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the university’s health and exercise science department.

“Bariatric surgery provides numerous health benefits for patients with severe obesity, but it can also lead to a reduction in bone mass, increasing the risk of fractures,” explained Ashley Weaver, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical engineering at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the principal investigator for the HR-pQCT ancillary study to the STRONG BONES trial.

The state-of-the-art HR-pQCT scanner, recently installed at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and the first of its kind in North Carolina, employs a low-radiation method to assess bone mineral density and bone microarchitecture. Unlike other imaging techniques, HR-pQCT offers high-resolution images with detailed bone characterization, providing valuable insights into fracture risk and skeletal fragility.

The STRONG BONES study is recruiting 120 participants over the age of 40 who are undergoing sleeve gastrectomy, a procedure that involves removing part of the stomach to achieve significant weight loss. Participants will receive six months of either risedronate or a placebo, with HR-pQCT imaging conducted before, during, and after treatment.

“We are able to combine this high-resolution imaging with computational modeling to understand how bone strength changes following surgery and in response to the intervention,” said Caitlyn Collins, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics at Virginia Tech and co-investigator on the ancillary study to the STRONG BONES trial. “This gives us a more in-depth understanding of how and where risedronate may be affecting bone remodeling in our study participants.”

The STRONG BONES study is led by Kristen M. Beavers, Ph.D., associate professor of health and exercise science at Wake Forest University, and Jamy Ard, M.D., professor of epidemiology and prevention at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and co-director of the Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Weight Management Center.

“By partnering with the parent study, we aim to gain insight into the biology of bone loss attributed to bariatric surgery, the associated weight loss, and whether risedronate is an effective countermeasure,” Weaver said. “Our findings could potentially change clinical guidelines and reduce long-term fracture risk in this patient population.”

Recruitment for the study is ongoing. Those interested in learning more or participating can contact the STRONG BONES study coordinator by calling 336-758-4078 or visiting the study website.