Ultrasound may open new window for osteoporosis detection and treatment
Scientists have discovered a non-invasive way to detect bone structure malfunction on a microscale using an ultrasound, revealed a late-breaking study published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. This new technique will help in the assessment of osteoporosis risks and treatments.
Osteoporosis is one of the major health hazards responsible for fragility fractures in males and females of above 50 years of age. As this disease builds up silently without giving any specific indications it remains underdiagnosed and undertreated. By the time the individual realizes, the bone becomes so fragile that a sudden strain, bump, or fall causes a hip fracture or a vertebra to collapse. So far, the central dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry or central DXA test is the standard to calculate the bone mass density (BMD) as a predictive tool of the disease. But these have their own setbacks due to radiation exposure. However, this new discovery may open a new window for more effective and early diagnosis of osteoporosis.
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This study took advantage of ultrasound's most disadvantageous feature which is that it cannot travel within complex media, such as bones and hence keep on bouncing back making it impossible to calculate how far they've travelled. The team looked at the rate at which ultrasound waves diffused from a bone site so that they can assess both the number of pores in a given area -- or pore density -- and the size of those pores.a
"The proof-of-concept paper we just published finds that there is a consistent correlation between the diffusion constant and bone pore size and density," says Marie Muller, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University and corresponding author of papers on the two studies. "However, it's worth noting that this was done in a computational model. We're currently doing an in vivo study with human patients and an in vitro study with human bone," she adds.
The team also published a study that used a nearly identical technique to try to distinguish between healthy soft tissue and solid tumors in a rat model. The tumor study made use of microbubbles injected into the vasculature of lab rats. Because bubbles cause ultrasound waves to scatter -- just like pores in bone -- ultrasound can track changes in the density of microbubbles as they travel through a rat's network of blood vessels.
Because tumors create networks of blood vessels that are denser and more complex than what is found in healthy tissue, researchers found that they could identify tumors by looking for areas where the microbubbles were slow to diffuse.
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"We are at least years from clinical applications, but if the results hold up, we may have a way to monitor patients on a regular basis to determine the health of the bone. That means people can track their potential risk for osteoporosis without having to worry about the radiation exposure associated with X-rays. In addition, the technique could help researchers and health care providers determine the effect of osteoporosis treatment efforts."
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