New Technique Can Help Detect Bone Loss Earlier
NASA's latest research may help spot osteoporosis, or bone loss, at a much earlier stage than previous methods.
Osteoporosis is hard to catch before something goes wrong. Usually, the only symptoms of it are a broken bone or severe pain. Current methods may not detect the disease for years, and they require a series of diagnoses and scans after a fracture has developed in the bone.
Bone loss is a concern for NASA since astronauts undergo bone loss in the microgravity of space.
Like Us on Facebook
"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," NASA nutritionist Scott Smith told the BBC.
This new test looks for traces of bone calcium in the subject's urine. By looking at either the abundance or the lack of certain calcium isotopes in the urine, researchers can determine whether bone loss is occurring or not.
The study confined a dozen healthy volunteers to bed rest for thirty days. Extended periods of bed rest can trigger bone loss since the subject is not moving about and exercising.
The researchers found bone loss as quickly as one week - a time period impossible using the conventional dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan.
"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," according to the lead researcher.
The technique could be used for other diseases concerning bone loss or bone manipulation such as cancer.
The study was done at Arizona State University working in conjunction with the U.S. space agency.