Dr Natalie Wee

Postdoctoral Fellow, Bone cell biology & disease Laboratory

Current Research

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The Problem

It starts with a fracture: a broken bone that should easily mend, given time. But when the break is caused by osteoporosis, the consequences can be devastating.

Osteoporosis affects over one million Australians. It weakens the skeleton, increasing the risk of fractures, particularly to the hip, spine, and wrist. Too often these injuries are the trigger for ongoing health issues that have huge personal and social costs. Alarmingly, people who suffer a fragility fracture, particularly to the hip, are at higher risk of dying, with death rates of up to 24% in the first year after the break.

Current therapies can preserve bone strength in the spine, but they don’t work on other areas, such as the femur, hip or wrist – the sites that need strength the most when someone falls.  

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The Project

The femur, hip and wrist bones are strong because they are rich in cortical bone, the hard-outer shell. It’s cortical bone strength that determines if someone will suffer a hip or wrist fracture, should they fall.

Finding a way to increase cortical bone width is key to helping those with osteoporosis – but to do that, we need to know what is happening at a cellular level.

Dr Wee is studying the unique cells on the outside of cortical bone, identifying which ones can make bones wider, and the signals they respond to. She is also investigating why bone width is different in men and women – females have narrower bones, meaning they are more likely to have osteoporosis.

Her work is an important first step towards designing therapies that can specifically strengthen the wrist, hip and femur of those with weak bones.

Bio image

Dr Natalie Wee

Dr Natalie Wee’s PhD examined how an appetite-stimulating molecule influenced bone mass during diet-induced obesity and mild cold stress. This work cut across bone biology, neuroscience and energy metabolism, and allowed her to develop new approaches to studying the skeleton.

After completing her PhD, Dr Wee travelled to the USA for further training. At Washington University in St Louis she developed techniques to quantify nerves in skeletal sites, and at the University of Connecticut Health Center she led several bone biology projects and learnt cutting-edge techniques for lineage tracing of bone cells.

Her work has been recognised through oral presentations at major conferences, national and international travel grants and numerous publications. She is also an active member of the scientific community, and has been involved in mentoring programs, teaching and serving on committees at institutional and national levels.