Spectroscopy method diagnoses bone diseases early

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Research published on the 28 November described a Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy (SORS) technique which, for the first time, was able to detect brittle bone disease by simply scanning the patient’s limbs. The method, which involves shining a laser through the skin to analyse the underlying chemistry of the bone, could lead to a less invasive method to diagnose bone diseases more quickly, helping to improve the lives of tens of thousands of sufferers in the UK alone.

The technique was developed by researchers from University College London (UCL), Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (RNOH), and was funded by a £1.7 million grant from the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The research was published in BoneKEy, a publication from Nature

Normally, bone diseases such as osteoporosis and brittle bone are diagnosed through invasive diagnostic methods such as genetic testing, or X-rays which means exposing patients to radiation. However, the SORS method was able to distinguish between healthy and diseased bone by simply scanning the patient’s limbs.

During the study, the research team carried out tests on a small bone sample taken from a 26 year old female patient who had type IV brittle bone disease. Using conventional Raman spectroscopy, the team probed the bone and compared it to a non-diseased bone sample, establishing a notable chemical difference in its make-up.

The patient’s body was then scanned extensively and non-invasively, using a laser in a custom-built SORS instrument developed by Cobalt Light Systems. For comparison, a second set of scans were carried out on a healthy female volunteer of a similar age, who does not have the disease.

The OI patient’s bone sample was found to be significantly more mineralised than the non-diseased sample, and was therefore structurally brittle. ‘The results confirm that SORS can detect abnormalities in the bone composition,’ said Dr Buckley, STFC’s Central Laser Facility, one of the team working on this project.

Not only was the SORS technique able to detect the disease, but the method provides more diagnostic information than current methods, Buckley added: ‘Bone is a complex material that has both mineral and protein components. Traditional X-ray methods that are used to study bone can only see the mineral but this technique can see both components.’

In the near future, it is hoped that the technique could be incorporated in a medical device for routine screening of patients in order to diagnose bone diseases earlier and prevent complications such as bone degradation and fractures. Every year, in the UK alone, there are more than 70,000 hip fractures associated with osteoporosis and a further 70,000 primary hip replacements associated with osteoarthritis.

‘I can envisage this developing into a routine tool that your local surgery can use when you go for your annual check-up, enabling early detection of conditions, early prescription and monitoring of medication, and will allow doctors to advise patients on lifestyle changes that could slow the progress of the disease further,’ said professor Allen Goodship from UCL’s Institute of Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal Science, who led the research. ‘With regular screening, SORS can monitor the effects directly.’

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Further Information


Cobalt Light Systems

Paper in BoneKEy