Scientists from Nasa have discovered a novel way to spot osteoporosis bone loss at the earliest disease stages, which could have a future role in the clinical evaluation of patients.
Osteoporosis bone loss is a condition that could go undetected for years, and the only way to currently detect when it has occurred is by scans after weakening of the bones has led to a fracture.
Now, new tests developed by scientists at Nasa could detect the disease by looking for traces of bone calcium in the urine. The condition is one that is often suffered by astronauts who suffer bone loss due to the microgravity of space, which is why researchers at the facility started to look for a quick way to diagnose its occurrence.
Working in conjunction with scientists at Arizona State University, the new technique analyses calcium isotopes derived from bone and each with their own specific number of neutrons. The abundance of these different isotopes changes when bone is destroyed and formed, which can then be used to indicate early changes in bone density.
According to the lead researcher Professor Ariel Anbar, the research team will now look to see if this technique works in patients with bone-altering diseases after testing it on a dozen healthy volunteers whom they confined to bed rest for 30 days. If successful, the treatment could be open to clinical applications.
It may also have other applications outside of diagnosing osteoporosis. According to the researchers it could help with monitoring other diseases that affect the bones, including cancer.
Nasa nutritionist Scott Smith said: “Nasa conducted these studies because astronauts in microgravity experience skeletal unloading and suffer bone loss. It’s one of the major problems in human spaceflight, and we need to find better ways to monitor and counteract it.”
Dr Nicola Peel of the National Osteoporosis Society in the UK said: “It is always exciting to see new techniques being developed with the potential to increase our understanding of the evolution and mechanism of bone disease.
“This approach of using calcium isotopes is very interesting and appears to have potential to detect very early changes of bone loss.”