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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 10/25/05
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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New Noninvasive Osteoporosis Screening Tool May Lead to Earlier Detection

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati are trying to determine if a new, noninvasive screening technique can effectively predict—even prevent—bone fractures in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis.

Led by Amit Bhattacharya, PhD, a professor in the UC’s Department of Environmental Health, the research team is measuring the body’s natural shock absorption and mechanical properties of bone in a group of 70 women at high-risk for osteoporosis. The researchers believe that by studying the difference between how healthy and unhealthy bone absorbs energy, they can better predict and diagnose osteoporosis.

“Current screening procedures only tell us about the patient’s bone mass, but to completely understand bone quality we also need to know about its strength and other mechanical properties, which are key to predicting future bone fractures in patients with osteoporosis,” said Dr. Bhattacharya.

Osteoporosis is a progressive disease that causes bone to become thin and porous, making it brittle and often resulting in painful hip and spine fractures. Women and men over 65 are more susceptible to the disease because production of estrogen and testosterone, respectively, has slowed and limited the body’s natural ability to rebuild bone.

Dr. Bhattacharya’s team hypothesizes that women with osteoporosis are unable to absorb the natural shock energy created by walking and other daily living tasks 

“When the heel strikes the ground, it creates a ‘force pulse,’ energy that passes up through the body and is absorbed by healthy, intact bone,” explains Dr. Bhattacharya. “Osteoporosis potentially decreases the quantity and quality—in other words both density and strength—of the bone, so the body’s natural ability to absorb shock is diminished, which may result in bone fractures.”

During the study, researchers attach small, skin-mounted sensors—for measuring the electrical impulses of muscle—to the each study participant’s skeletal system.

Participants take several normal walking strides and then step onto a “force platform” that measures the amount of incoming energy. If the bone is healthy, the amount of energy detected will gradually decrease as it travels up through body. If the bone has flaws, the energy flow will be significantly disrupted, giving researchers a unique electrical signature that may correlate with osteoporosis.

If the test is effective in the high-risk population and subsequent testing groups, Dr. Bhattacharya said, a miniaturized version of the skeletal shock absorption measurement system may play a key future role in clinical screening—and early detection—of the disease.

“If we can develop a way to measure the brittleness of the bone early,” he said, “we can stop the disease at a preclinical state, limit the patient’s suffering due to bone fractures and minimize the associated health costs.”

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, more than 25 million people suffer from the disease—which is also responsible for more than 1.5 million fractures annually. While osteoporosis is most prevalent in postmenopausal Caucasian women, one in four men over 50 will also suffer an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime.

The two-year exploratory study is funded by the National Institute for Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

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