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Jewish World Review March 20, 2001 / 25 Adar, 5761

Lee Bowman

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Consumer Reports

Technique could predict bone breaks -- SCIENTISTS have developed a new technique to determine when bones may be about to break.

Bone specialists know that extreme exertion and stress, from activities like long-distance running, for instance, can cause human bones to develop minute cracks. If those cracks form faster than the body's normal healing process can repair them, fractures are likely.

But with a technique called Raman spectroscopy, engineers at the University of Michigan say they can identify chemical changes in bones that predict when they're about to break.

"Wouldn't it be nice to know when you've pushed yourself too hard, so you can slow down and let your body catch up and heal itself? With our research, one day doctors may be able to help you do just that,'' said David Kohn, a biomedical engineer heading the project.

The method uses laser light to detect subtle differences in the mineral composition of regions of damaged bone compared to normal bone. Reflected light waves are measured and the differences in the wavelengths of the light give a unique spectrum for each molecule in the bone.

"We've shown that the variation in chemical composition between normal and damaged bone tissue is much greater than the small chemical variations normally seen in bone tissue,'' Kohn said.

"We already know that age and disease affect bone's ability to repair itself. Now, we're learning how chemical changes impact the behavior of bone.''

Kohn had previously worked with chemistry professor Michael Morris to develop benchmarks for the laser signatures of healthy and stressed bone.

In the latest research, Kohn and his team have found that bone with visible microcracks or the diffuse damage of aging present signals that are either below or above those of bone with no visible microscopic damage.

Although the scientists eventually hope to translate their knowledge into a diagnostic tool, Kohn said there's more basic science needed to understand "structure-function relations in bone, which help us understand patient data.''

The researchers want to speed up their analysis so that they can collect snapshots of bone stress in a few seconds. Then they can track how the chemical signature of bone changes under different types of physical strains.

Once they can relate the changes in bone composition to mechanical damage as functions of aging and disease, "we will be better able to develop the techniques as noninvasive or minimally invasive diagnostics,'' Kohn said.

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