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New technique advances bone diagnostics

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A new scanning technique uses non-invasive luminescence imaging to produce high-res 3D images of bones without exposing patients to X-ray radiation.

The technique, developed in Ireland, shows the quality of bone as well as quantity.

Chemists from Trinity College Dublin, in collaboration with RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland), attached luminescent compounds to tiny gold structures to form biologically safe ‘nanoagents´ which are attracted to calcium-rich surfaces. These appear when bones crack, even at a micro level.

The nanoagents target and highlight the cracks formed in bones, allowing researchers to produce a complete 3D image of the damaged regions, the university reported.

This technique could be used to diagnose bone strength and provide a detailed blueprint of the extent and precise positioning of any weakness or injury. As a result, it could help prevent the need for bone implants, and act as an early-warning system for people at a high risk of degenerative bone diseases such as osteoporosis.

The research was led by Trinity Professor of Chemistry Thorri Gunnlaugsson and postdoctoral researcher Esther Surender, who worked with scientists at RCSI led by Clive Lee, Professor of Anatomy.

Professor Lee said: “Everyday activity loads our bones and causes microcracks to develop. These are normally repaired by a remodelling process, but, when microcracks develop faster, they can exceed the repair rate and so accumulate and weaken our bones.

“This occurs in athletes and leads to stress fractures. In elderly people with osteoporosis, microcracks accumulate because repair is compromised and lead to fragility fractures, most commonly in the hip, wrist and spine. Current X ray techniques can tell us about the quantity of bone present but they do not give much information about bone quality.”

He continued: “By using our new nanoagent to label microcracks and detecting them with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), we hope to measure both bone quantity and quality and identify those at greatest risk of fracture and institute appropriate therapy. Diagnosing weak bones before they break should therefore reduce the need for operations and implants — prevention is better than cure.”

The study appears in the latest issue of the journal Chem, published by CellPress.


http://www.cell.com/chem/abstract/S2451-9294 (16)30113-9