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Portable ‘Early-Warning’ Test for Osteoporosis

Hand-held device diagnoses bone fragility (September 17)

A handheld device for diagnosing the early signs of osteoporosis could be available for clinical use within 5 years, according to a report from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in the U.K.

The technology is currently being tested at the University of Southampton with support from the EPSRC. The original concept was invented at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Unlike existing methods of assessing bone fragility, which measure bone density using X-rays, the device is designed to measure the ability of bone tissue to prevent small cracks from growing into full-blown fractures.

It does this by pressing a microscopic needle a tiny distance into the top layer of bone. Measured electronically, the amount of penetration indicates how fragile the bone tissue is and therefore the risk of experiencing an osteoporotic fracture later in life.

A normal reading might see the needle sink into the bone by around 20 micrometers (0.02 mm); a reading of 40 micrometers might indicate a significant risk of fracture.

“As the population ages and life expectancy rises in the decades ahead, the cost of treating osteoporotic fractures will increase,” said project leader Professor Philipp Thurner. “One in three women aged over 50 is forecast to experience an osteoporotic fracture in her lifetime and, globally, treatment costs are forecast to reach over US $130 billion by 2050. The potential improvement in assessing osteoporosis and future fracture risk offered by this new technology could reduce the burden of broken bones for individuals, health care systems, and the economy.”

Source: EPSRC; September 17, 2013.

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