Researchers from NASA and Arizona State University in the US believe that they have fond a technique to spot osteoporosis bone loss in earlier stages of the disease. The new method of detecting bone loss is considered to be safer and capable of diagnosing the condition earlier than existing methods which depend on X-rays.
The new test was designed partially with astronauts in mind because they also suffer bone loss due to the microgravity of the space. The new technique analyses tiny changes in calcium isotopes, which are naturally present in urine. These are derived from bone and each has their own specific number of neutrons.
The profusion of these diverse isotopes alters when bone is formed and destroyed, therefore can signify earlier changes in bone density. For their analysis, researchers selected dozen healthy participants whom they confined to bed rest for thirty days. When urine samples of participants were examined they found that the new technique was able to detect bone loss just after one week.
It was long before changes in bone density could be detected with the help of conventional medical scans such as dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). Another significant aspect of the new technique is that it is the only method, apart from DEXA, that measures net bone loss directly. The work was reported in PNAS journal.
In addition to that different from other biochemical tests for bone loss that look for blood markers of increased bone turnover, it can give a direct measure of net bone loss. Lead author Prof Ariel Anbar stated the next step is to see if it works as expected in patients with bone-altering diseases. That would open the door to clinical applications.
The new technique is useful for diagnosing osteoporosis and could help with monitoring other diseases that affect the bones, including cancer. NASA conducted these studies because astronauts in microgravity experience skeletal unloading and suffer bone loss. It is one of the major problems in human spaceflight, and they need to find better ways to monitor and counteract it, explained NASA nutritionist Scott Smith.