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Measuring Bone Strength At University of California Santa Barbara

Revolutionary work in measuring bone strength is happening in Santa Barbara. A new invention with roots at the University of California Santa Barbara could help change lives in the not-so-distant future.

UCSB physics professor Dr. Paul Hansma uses two small bones he bought at a supermarket to make his point: The darker one was baked, the white one wasn’t.

Hansma says baking degrades organics in the bone, similar to what happens naturally to our bones through aging, disease and lifestyle choices such as smoking or excessive drinking.

Hansma and his colleagues at Santa Barbara-based Active Life Scientific, Inc. say current bone density tests measure the amount of bone and minerals but not the quality of a person’s bones or overall strength.

“If you indent this bone, it’ll be indented much more deeply than this bone,” explains Hansma, who taps an automatic center punch into the baked bone. “But of course this would be impractical to do in the body because you’d have to surgically expose the bone to see how deep the dent was.”

Hansma, a nanotechnology pioneer at UCSB, teamed up with Dr. Adolfo Diez-Perez, an expert in osteoporosis and Professor of Medicine at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain on this project.

After years of work and 26 prototypes, Hansma invented the OsteoProbe.

“This instrument makes a little dent so small you can’t even see that,” said Hansma. “About the depth of a human hair.”

“The lidocaine going in felt like a blood draw,” said Brian Kopeikin, a board certified anesthesiologist with Active Life Scientific, Inc. “Then after that you felt almost nothing. I would say this is significantly less painful than a flu shot.”

The needle probe measures the indentation in the bone, then sends that information to a computer.

“It takes the measurements on the patient, it takes measurements on a calibration material and the test is done,” said Davis Brimer, founder and CEO of Active Life Scientific, Inc. “It gives results just like that.”

And, out comes a number. Think of it as grading the bone. 100 percent is a good, strong bone; A 50 to 60 measurement indicates a bad or fragile bone.

Diez-Perez likens a weak bone that’s lost proteins or the “glue” that keeps it together to a weak structure.

“It’s like having a wall of bricks when the concrete is not good,” said Diez-Perez. “You have a lot of bricks but the strength of the wall is not okay because the concrete is a bad quality.”

The team says millions of people with illnesses such as diabetes or those who use certain steroids like prednisone often have normal results from bone density tests, when in fact, their bones may not be structurally sound.

Active Life Scientific, Inc. hopes to have the technique available for wide-use in the next five to six years.

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