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UK Project Tests Diagnostic Device For Osteoporosis

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Osteoporotic fractures cost the NHS approximately £2 billion annually. Many people do not realise they suffer from osteoporosis until they break a bone, so identifying the disease early could help slow down its development or block it completely. This is the objective of a three-year project that revolves around a portable device for detecting early signs of the disease. The technology is being tested by researchers from the University of Southampton, who are hoping that the device will be in clinical use within five years.

The idea belongs to US researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara. The UK team is refining the technology with assistance from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

At present, bone fragility is assessed through methods that determine bone density via X-rays. The new device can measure the ability of bone tissue to stop small cracks from becoming full-blown fractures. The process involves inserting a microscopic needle into the top layer of bone. The depth of penetration is measured electronically, indicating the fragility of bone tissue and the risk of osteoporotic fractures at a later point in the patient´s life. Penetration at around 20 micrometres (0.02 mm) is considered a normal reading, while 40 micrometres could be indicative of a high fracture risk.

Professor Philipp Thurner, the leader of the project, said that treatment costs for osteoporotic fractures would only keep rising in the future as life expectancy increases. The new technology has the potential to significantly improve assessment of osteoporosis and fracture risk, which will benefit patients, healthcare systems and the overall economy, he added.