Health insurance news - NASA develops way to spot osteoporosis years before x-ray can
Scientists at US space agency NASA believe they have found a way to bone loss due to spot osteoporosis at the earliest stage of the disease.
One of the biggest problems with the condition is that its weakening of the bones can go unnoticed for years and often its existence only comes to light when the person suffers a break or fracture.
NASA has developed a new test to look for signs of bone calcium in urine.
The space agency, which has published its findings in the PNAS journal, was looking into the effect that microgravity in space can have on the bones of astronauts when it discovered the link between bone loss and the passing of calcium.
Working alongside Arizona State University, NASA has analysed calcium isotopes and found that the way in which these isotopes change gives a strong indication on the likelihood of alterations to bone density.
To test their systems, 12 perfectly healthy volunteers were confined to bed rest for 30 days as prolonged time in bed increases the chance of bone loss. In some people, bone loss could be recognised in as little as one week – long prior to when traditional X-rays would be able to see the problem.
Nasa nutritionist Scott Smith said: "Nasa conducted these studies because astronauts in microgravity experience skeletal unloading and suffer bone loss. It's one of the major problems in human spaceflight, and we need to find better ways to monitor and counteract it."
Dr Nicola Peel of the National Osteoporosis Society in the UK said: "It is always exciting to see new techniques being developed with the potential to increase our understanding of the evolution and mechanism of bone disease.
"This approach of using calcium isotopes is very interesting and appears to have potential to detect very early changes of bone loss.
"This could therefore have a future role in the clinical evaluation of patients."