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Creating new methods of diagnosing bone disease in children

Sheffield Children's Hospital identified a need to develop new equipment to monitor the bone mineral density (BMD) in children less than four years old. Using current techniques, it is difficult to accurately measure bone mineral density in children this age because normal values do not exist.

The creation of an accurate system to measure BMD has very important healthcare benefits. It can help identify bone disease and potential cases of child abuse. To help them devise a method of assessing bone density in young children, Sheffield Children's Hospital approached our Materials and Engineering Research Institute (MERI).

Our approach

Assisted by Dr Reza Saatchi, PhD Student Hajar Razaghi took on the task of designing and developing the Bone mineral Density Assessment System (BDAS) as part of her PhD.

Hajar explains, 'While existing densitometry methods have their own individual limitations for assessing BMD in infants, BDAS is potentially a novel, non-invasive, cost effective, accurate and rapid assessment system to screen BMD and predict bone fracture risk in children.'

The BDAS system will have the advantage of beingcompletely safe and non-invasive. In comparison to existing methods for densitometry (such as DXA), it will be much more economical as it will not need a sophisticated maintenance system to operate. BDAS will be easy to use and will automatically analyse bone characteristics. This enables a clearer and a more accurate method of monitoring a patient.Hajar’s research has been financially supported by the Sheffield Children's Hospital Charity.

Amaka Offiah, Hajar's supervisor at Sheffield Children's Hospital, commented, 'When an infant or young child is admitted with a fracture, it is vital that we are able to assess their bone strength (bone density) to help determine whether the fractures occurred due to accidental or abusive (inflicted) trauma. The current gold standard for assessing bone density in children is dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA). However DXA is difficult to use in children below four years of age and is poorly associated with fracture risk at any age. What is needed is a low-cost, non-invasive and easily applied tool that will monitor bone strength. Hajar's results using BDAS are encouraging, albeit at a very early stage with more work required.'

The results

The equipment has potential to make a real impact in the medical world, with opportunities for it to be introduced into in a range of different medical environments, such as NHS hospitals and developing countries.

Assuming that the BDAS system is found to be more reliable and cost efficient than existing methods, it will offer a perfect replacement for the existing methods. It is currently being tested at Sheffield Children's Hospital in older children to establish how it compares with the current gold standard of DXA.

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