Chemists develop a technique that reveals the 'microcracks' in a patient's bone, without exposing them to x-ray radiation. They say it could act as an early warning for degenerative bone diseases, such as osteoporosis. Matthew Stock reports.
This 3D image shows in minute detail the tiny cracks in bone. Quickly identifying this microdamage - less than the width of a human hair - could act as an early warning sign for conditions such as osteoporosis. When a microcrack is formed in a bone, calcium is exposed at that specific site. Scientists in Dublin have developed a biologically safe 'nanoagent' that binds to this calcium. SOUNDBITE (English) THORRI GUNNLAUGSSON, PROFESSOR OF CHEMISTRY AT TRINITY COLLEGE DUBLIN, SAYING: "To mimic damage to a bone, what we've done is generate a scratch by using the scalpel and then we put our bone into the agent which we have here in the solution. We can clean it up, leave it here for a certain amount of time... and we can rinse it and put it back into this dish and this is what we image then underneath the confocal fluorescence microscope." Far more precise than x-rays it, crucially, doesn't expose patients to radiation. SOUNDBITE (English) THORRI GUNNLAUGSSON, PROFESSOR OF CHEMISTRY AT TRINITY COLLEGE DUBLIN, SAYING: "Unlike x-ray where you will see the whole body imaging here we are targeting only the cracks in the bone, only the damaged area. And that's the advantage of this technology." Catching stress or fragility fractures before they become more serious could reduce the need for operations and implants. SOUNDBITE (English) CLIVE LEE, PROFESSOR OF ANATOMY AT THE ROYAL COLLEGE OF SURGEONS IN IRELAND, SAYING: "We don't have a very good way of identifying who needs that treatment. So if we are able to measure bone quantity and bone quality we should get a better indicator of fracture risk and then be able to target our therapy at those people who most need it." The team says real-world application would most likely have the nanoagent injected into the blood stream at the site of the area under scrutiny The technique was published recently in the journal Chem.