Osteoporosis occurs when a class of cells known as osteoclasts — which secrete hydrochloric acid and help in normal skeletal maintenance — go rogue.
“There are more of the osteoclasts, they’re more active and if there were treatments to shut them down it would be a good therapy,” he says.
In seeking such a therapy, Sims actually observes the cells under a microscope as they churn through thin slices of bone. But of all the bony materials out there, teeth provide the most transparent observation platform to view the osteoclasts at work, he says.
“And tusks are modified teeth. They’re made up of dentin which is what you and I have making up our teeth.”
Sims team often uses modern elephant tusks – typically confiscated contraband – which he slices up into pill-sized wedges to use.
“But we propose that the (mammoth tusk) is going to have slightly different properties than a modern elephant tusk,” Sims says.
“We think the mammoth tusk will be even more transparent than the average dentin because it’s aged.”