Investigating potential treatments for osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) as well as the association between these two disorders are the research goals of Dr Jun Yuan, a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Brain and Bone Axis Research group at the Perron Institute and The University of Western Australia.

Dr Yuan is based at the Institute and recently conferred his PhD via UWA, which investigated the role of osteocytes in bone loss and AD.

Bone loss and AD are two age-related and often co-existing disorders. Current evidence indicates that osteocytes, the main cell type of bone, can affect the function of tissues outside bone by secreting a variety of molecules.

“My thesis revealed evidence of crosstalk between bone and brain,” Dr Yuan said. “It also highlights the potential of osteocytes in orchestrating two ageing-related diseases, osteoporosis and AD.

“In brief, osteocytes may contribute to bone loss by secreting cathepsin K (an enzyme) and may also promote pathological alterations in AD through secretion of sclerostin, a small bone-derived protein expressed by the SOST gene.

“These findings further advance the knowledge of osteocytes as multifunctional and dynamic cells, not only inside bone, but also in other organs. From a clinical perspective, osteocytes are a novel target for the treatment of osteoporosis, and the sclerostin produced by osteocytes could be a biomarker for the early identification of AD.”

Dr Yuan’s PhD supervisors were Professor Minghao Zheng, who heads the Brain and Bone Axis Research group at Perron Institute and UWA, Professor Bruno Meloni (Perron Institute and UWA), and Dr Junjie Gao (Shanghai Jiao Tong University).

He was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship, a UWA Postgraduate Award Scholarship and a UWA Safety-Net PhD Top-Up Scholarship.

“Completing a PhD is a long and demanding journey, especially with the interruption of the COVID-19 pandemic. I could never have made it without the support of my supervisors, colleagues, friends, and especially my family.

“Thanks to funding from the Sarich Family, I can build on my PhD research and further contribute to the understanding and importance of the bone-brain axis.

“My first goal is to investigate and verify the association of sclerostin in the blood and AD-related pathological changes and cognitive impairment. The second is to develop drugs which target the SOST gene for the treatment of osteoporosis and AD.”

Dr Yuan encourages students and young researchers to persist: “Completing a PhD is challenging, so don’t doubt yourself, no matter how many failures you may face.”

Congratulations, Dr Yuan!