From helicopters to hips, monitoring wear and tear

Scientists are exploring how to modify a technique used to monitor the condition of military machinery to instead diagnose disease, analyze drugs and monitor orthopedic implants.

Israeli scientists are exploring how to modify a technique used to monitor the condition of military machinery to instead diagnose disease, analyze drugs and monitor orthopedic implants.

Researchers led by professor Noam Eliaz at Tel Aviv University are working to modify ferrography -- in which iron particles from lubricants such as oil are extracted to reveal wear on the machine in question -- for the human body.

The point? To determine whether a system needs preventative maintenance to avoid catastrophic failure -- be it a jet engine or a knee.

Nicknamed "bio-ferrography," the new technique can be used to ascertain wear on ligaments, cartilage and bones, which causes pain in the form of osteoarthritis.

Here's how it works: a machine magnetically isolates tissue, capturing magnetically-labeled bone and cartilage particles from synovial fluids that are extracted from a patient's joints. The machine then counts the particles and analyzes their dimension, chemical composition and shape, which can be correlated to the progression of the disease and where the particles originated in the cartilage.

The scientists say bio-ferrography improves on the conventional diagnostic technique of x-rays because it's more quantitative and objective, more acute in its diagnosis than simply ogling at an x-ray image.

The technique can also be used to evaluate the efficacy of medication. The researchers used bio-ferrography on Hyaluronan, a drug injected in four doses into the knees of patients suffering from osteoarthritis.

Analyzing cartilage and bone fragments in joint fluids, the researchers determined that though the drug worked as advertised, the fourth dose wasn't as effective as the rest. Their finding could lead to the elimination of a fourth injection, sparing the patient further pain (and the provider further cost).

Lastly, the researchers found use for bio-ferrography in orthopedic implants. During the research and development stage, the technique helps predict the lifespan of artificial joints; once on the market, it can be used to monitor degradation in the body before the product fails.

Their research was published in the journal Acta Biomaterialia.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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