Sep 9, 2016 | By Nick

Researchers in Ireland have found a new 3D scanning method that could potentially spell the end of the X-ray. It’s called long wavelength excitation and it involves pumping gold particles into your blood before taking a scan.

Don’t count on X-rays disappearing for a while yet. They have been with us since 1895 and they’re still the go-to diagnostic tool for straightforward injuries to your bones. But this chemical approach by researchers from the School of Chemistry at Trinity College and the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland, could be the start of a new technique that has a multitude of uses.

Essentially the technique relies on the fact that the body releases significant levels of calcium from any micro crack in the bone. The team at Trinity found a way to attach luminescent material to nanoscale gold structures that collectively is drawn towards the calcium deposits.

A simple scan will then reveal an accurate picture of micro cracks and more serious problems with the bone structure. At the moment doctors have to visually inspect x-rays for obvious damage and it isn’t unusual for them to miss small cracks. This technique would effectively highlight any damage, no matter how small, so there would be almost no chance of overlooking a problem.

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Inevitably this involves introducing the agent in to the blood stream and it seems like taking the long way round to the same destination. But the compound is biologically safe and gold has been used in medicine for a long time thanks to its inert and stable nature.

X-rays carry an increased risk of cancer and the team argues this new method could be a much safer alternative. They are also relatively limited.

“The nanoagents we have developed allow us to visualize the nature and extent of the damage in a manner that wasn’t previously possible,” said Professor Thorri Gunnlaugsson, who led the team along with post-doctoral researcher Dr Esther Surender. “This is a major step forward in our quest to develop targeted contrast agents for bone diagnostics for use in clinical applications.”

This new technique will go much further than highlighting simple cracks and breaks. It could offer an early warning for the onset of conditions such as osteoporosis, which is a major contributing factor in broken bones in elderly patients. If a doctor can spot the condition early and prescribe treatment, the patient has a better chance of a healthy and happy life in their old age.

For patients that suffer with the disease, repeated checks can also highlight weak bones and preventative care can then cut the risk of serious injury. In a lot of cases, patients require bone implants or lengthy rehabilitation that could have been avoided with an early warning sign like this.

Clive Lee, Professor of Anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons, was heavily involved in the development of this innovative 3D scanning technique. He thinks the biggest benefit will come from identifying potential weaknesses in bones, rather than treating breaks after the event. He thinks that’s just as important for Olympic athletes as it is for the elderly."Everyday activity loads our bones and causes microcracks to develop,” he said. “These are normally repaired by a remodeling process, but, when microcracks develop faster, they can exceed the repair rate and so accumulate and weaken our bones.

“This occurs in athletes and leads to stress fractures. In elderly people with osteoporosis, microcracks accumulate because repair is compromised and lead to fragility fractures, most commonly in the hip, wrist and spine. Current X ray techniques can tell us about the quantity of bone present but they do not give much information about bone quality."

There’s no word on the potential costs, but the technique makes a little gold go a long way and it may well cost the same as an old-fashioned X-ray. The technique could also be portable, unlike X-rays, because there is no hazardous radiation to worry about.

The full paper has been published in Chem, published by Cell Press.

 

 

Posted in 3D Scanning

 

 

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