Osteoporosis is a disease that can go undetected for years and sometimes it is only discovered in a person after a fracture has occurred and a scan has found a weakness in the bones. This could all change, however, after NASA scientists came across a way to spot the disease in its’ early stages.
Astronauts can suffer from bone loss because of the microgravity in space and it was while researching into this that scientists made their discovery. They managed to develop a test which looks for traces of bone calcium in urine. The test analyses different atoms of calcium each of which has its’ own number of neutrons.
When bone is destroyed or formed this balance of isotopes changes so changes in bone density can be detected. The scientists tested 12 volunteers by confining them to bed for 30 days and then testing them for bone loss. Long periods of bed rest can cause bone loss.
After only a week bone loss was found to be occurring in some of the volunteers. Normal medical scans such as Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry would take a lot longer to detect this. The new test also gives the net amount of bone loss which other biochemical tests cannot do.
Professor Ariel Anbar, leading the research, said that they want to see for sure if it works on people with bone-altering diseases such as osteoporosis. It could also help in detecting and monitoring other bone diseases such as cancer. Once the results are conclusive then the way ahead is clear for testing in clinical procedures.