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New X-ray Technique May Lead to Earlier Diagnosis of Osteoarthritis

  [ 46 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • April 8, 2002

An innovative x-ray technique called Diffraction Enhanced Imaging (DEI) could be an extremely valuable tool to physicians trying to detect osteoarthritis while in its early stages of development. Images of cartilage taken using DEI are clearly defined, whereas conventional x-rays leave the tissue obscured.

According to a report in the March issue of Osteoarthritis & Cartilage, researchers led by Dean Chapman, associate professor of physics at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), and Klaus Kuettner, Chairman of the Department of Biochemistry at Rush Medical College of Rush-Presbyterian Saint Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago, have been able to not only image cartilage, but to correlate certain features in their DEI x-ray images with various disease stages of osteoarthritis.

“Since cartilage is a tissue that cannot be imaged by conventional radiography, this could be an important new tool for diagnosing osteoarthritis much earlier in the disease cycle,” says Chapman Today, conventional x-ray diagnosis of osteoarthritis shows only that bones are getting closer and closer together as the cartilage deteriorates. Chapman and Kuettner believe that DEI can fill the x-ray imaging void in detecting cartilage degeneration earlier.

DEI produces images with about 27 times greater contrast than regular x-ray images. By placing a crystal in the path of the x-ray beam after it passes through an object, most of the scatter that degrades conventional x-rays is eliminated, resulting in sharper images that highlight the edges of objects and make them stand out against complex backgrounds. DEI also delivers about the same dose of radiation as conventional x-rays, perhaps even less.

DEI excels in picking up cartilage because it exists in very discrete shapes with clearly defined edges. Chapman and colleagues are now looking into developing DEI to screen for osteoarthritis in patients. According to Chapman, moving DEI into a clinical setting is definitely a challenge, but one that can be overcome. Such a machine is still years away, but Chapman is confident that one day DEI will be available in hospitals and clinics.

Carol Muehleman, of Rush Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago and one of the leading scientists working with Chapman on the research, is convinced that the new DEI technology has the potential to become an extremely valuable tool to physicians trying to detect osteoarthritis while the condition is in its early stages of development.

“Right now we can only determine, by regular x-rays, if a person is losing their cartilage through degeneration by watching the spaces between their bones get smaller as the cartilage wears down,” Muehleman says. “With DEI, we would actually be able to see the cartilage and detect osteoarthritis much earlier for treatment.”

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