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Boston researchers receive $2.7m grant to study ‘Dowagers Hump’

A team of Boston researchers, led by an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, has received a $2.7 million federal grant to investigate hyperkyphosis, also known as “Dowagers Hump,” a little-understood condition that causes an extreme curvature of the spine, typically in older adults.

“Despite the severe impact hyperkyphosis can have on an individual’s health, there are no recognized guidelines for its prevention, treatment or management,” Lisa Samelson, lead investigator for the study and an assistant scientist at the Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife, said in a statement.

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Hyperkyphosis is thought to affect as many as 40 percent of older adults and causes a bulge on the upper back. The condition can create serious health problems including breathing and digestion difficulty, limitations to mobility, and increased risk of falls and fractures, in addition to pain and disfigurement.

Samelson’s team, which includes scientists from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine, will use data from the Framingham Heart Study, an ongoing project that has collected detailed information from generations of Framingham residents and their offspring since the 1940s.

The team will study data from 2,000 men and women between the ages of 50 and 85 to help pinpoint causes of hyperkyphosis.

During the five-year study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, researchers will track the progression of curvature of the upper spine, and factors that may contribute to the condition, such as osteoarthritis and spinal fractures.

The scientists will also study the effect that the condition has on a person’s health and quality of life, research that can “ultimately lead to prevention strategies and treatments,” Dr. Lewis Lipsitz, director of the Institute for Aging Research, said in a statement.

Kay Lazar can be reached at klazar@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.
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