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A More Accurate Diagnosis of Osteoporosis

As we age, bone tissue can thin and become less dense--a condition termed osteoporosis. The loss of bone density and the destruction of the bone microstructure are most evident in cancellous bone, the spongy inner layer that surrounds bone marrow. Typically, when samples of this tissue are evaluated for osteoporosis, tests fail to account for the interplay of the surrounding tissue and the viscosity of the fluid within the tissue.

However, theoretical studies conducted by mathematicians at the University of Delaware and the U.S. Naval Academy have shown that it is essential to consider both the viscous properties of the blood-marrow mixture within cancellous bone, as well as the effect of the muscle surrounding the bone.

These studies could help in the development of an accurate method to diagnose osteoporosis using quantitative ultrasound techniques (QUT) that would provide an enormous clinical benefit. While both X-ray densitometry and QUT measure bone density, only QUT does not ionize the tissue, and QUT is relatively inexpensive to implement.

Common places where cancellous bone occurs include the interior of the verterbrae, the hips and the heel. Cancellous bone consists of struts known as trabeculae that lend rigidity to the hard bone enclosure. The void between the trabeculae is filled with a viscous, blood marrow mixture. Ultrasound scanning of the bone gives information, not only about bone density, but also information about the microstructural arrangement of the trabeculae. This added information gives a more precise evaluation of the bone rigidity and the onset of osteoporosis.


  • 3-D image of bone's support structure
Bone's support structure reconstructed from micro-CT scans.
Miao-jung Yvonne Ou, University of Delaware

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