Space-age device for early detection of bone disorders

February 19th, 2009 - 2:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 19 (IANS) A space age ultrasound device, being developed to fight bone disorders afflicting millions, will accelerate prediction of osteoporosis and fracture healing.
National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) scientists are developing the technology to assist astronauts during long-duration spaceflights. Like the elderly on earth, astronauts in space lose bone structure and quality.

Yi-Xian Qin, associate team leader for NSBRI’s Smart Medical Systems and Technology Team, calls the new technology Scanning Confocal Acoustic Navigation (SCAN). He said the objective is to develop a small, mobile, user-friendly device.

“SCAN uses non-invasive and non-destructive ultrasound to image bone. It will allow us to identify weak regions, to make a diagnosis and to assist in healing fractures,” said Qin, director, Orthopedic Bioengineering Research Lab at Stony Brook University - State University of New York.

Stress-related fractures are a big concern for astronauts during long missions to the moon or in space. Qin said the fracture rate could be high on the moon due to workload force, heavy spacesuits and gravity that is a sixth of earth’s.

Compared to current diagnostic ultrasound scanners, Qin’s new technology is more advanced because of its ability to assess a higher number of parameters and is designed for imaging of hard tissue such as bone.

“Our new ultrasound technology can detect bone mineral density. In addition, we can assess bone quality, such as stiffness, and then predict the risk of fracture,” Qin said, according to NSBRI release.

Qin is currently conducting clinical evaluations of the diagnostic part of the technology. The mobile device runs off of a laptop computer, and an image of the heel or wrist can be completed in about five minutes. Also under development is the capability to scan the knee and hip.

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