New discovery from Bone and Joint Institute unlocks mysteries of common spine disease

Animated gif of spine with calcified deposits

An interdisciplinary team of scientists and medical practitioners from Western University’s Bone and Joint Institute have made a major breakthrough into better understanding a highly prevalent spine disease that affects an astounding 25 to 30 per cent of North American men over 50.

Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis – more commonly known as DISH – occurs when ligaments and connective tissues harden along the spine. And despite its relatively high level of pervasiveness, very little was known about the disease until now.

Seguin HeadshotOne long held belief about DISH was that it was new bone growth between the spine’s vertebrae that was causing the moderate to severe back pain and stiffness. A new study led by Cheryle Séguin from Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, which examined spines from human cadavers, shows that the growths (observed clinically on X-ray) leading to a diagnosis of DISH are, in fact, not always new bone growth but sometimes hyperdense calcified deposits. The appearance of these tissues by micro-CT also suggests that this process may not be limited to conventional new bone formation.

These important findings have been published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Research.

Séguin recruited surgeons, radiologists and physiotherapists from the Bone and Joint Institute, as well as patients suffering from DISH, to develop a holistic approach to understanding the disease. The CIHR New Investigator Award winner also recently completed a corroborating study, published by the Journal of Cellular Physiology, using mouse models to examine the cellular changes that might contribute to the onset of DISH. The same calcification process occurred in the mice.

“DISH is an extremely common disease yet it is severely understudied,” says Séguin. “We can learn things from the cadavers but it is limited because these aren’t living specimens. The mouse model is limited too because it’s not human but when you combine those two studies together, that’s when it gets really exciting. We now have a clear pathway on where to go from here to better understanding DISH and developing new therapies and treatments.”

Séguin and Jim Stevely, a volunteer with Patient Partners with Arthritis who suffers from DISH, are available for media interviews.

While DISH occurs most commonly in the spine, it can affect almost any part of the skeleton, including hips, knees, ankles, feet, shoulders, hands and ribs. The most common symptoms are pain, stiffness and reduced range of motion.

MEDIA CONTACT: Jeff Renaud, Senior Media Relations Officer, 519-661-2111, ext. 85165, 519-520-7281 (mobile),, @jeffrenaud99

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