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Bone Hard

New imaging technique for measuring bone and muscle fat allows earlier diagnosis of treatable damage

12 December 2020

Bone Hard

Bones are the scaffold around which our whole bodies are built, but they’re not the rock-hard, unchanging structures we might imagine. They are living parts of our body, and their composition and contents can change as we grow and age. The degree of fat inside bone is a useful indicator of conditions like osteosarcopenia – a syndrome encompassing osteoporosis and sarcopenia that can include vitamin D deficiency, and is associated with damaging fractures and falls. Analysing a bone’s contents isn’t straightforward, and muscle and bone mass, assessed by a combination of imaging techniques, is a less accurate indicator often used in diagnosis. A new technique precisely quantifies fat infiltration (pictured, bones visualised at different stages of transparency to reveal their make-up), which should allow much earlier and more accurate diagnosis. This could give patients advance warning of trouble to come, helping them avoid risks and live with greater independence for longer.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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