Scientists at NASA have discovered a new method for discovering osteoporosis at its earliest stages of development, a finding that could better the living conditions for millions of people who suffer from the ailment.
Under current testing methodology osteoporosis is discovered only after scans reveal weakening of the bones which have led to a fracture. Under the new test traces of bone calcium in a test takers urine can reveal bone loss, a method used to check for bone density issues in astronauts.
Published in the PNAS journal the test was developed by researchers at NASA and Arizona State University. The technique analyses calcium isotopes, different atoms of the element calcium, derived from bone and each with their own specific number of neutrons.
Because the balance or abundance of the isotopes change when bone is destroyed or formed the test can determine if early bone density loss will occur.
Researchers examined dozens of volunteers over a 30 day period, all of whom were confined to bed rest which triggers faster bone loss. Researchers learned that their test could discover bone loss in just one week, long before conventional medical scans could produce the same results.
Other tests for bone loss are available but look at blood markers of increased bone turnover which does not provide a net bone loss result.
Researchers note that the test could eventually be used to detect other bone related diseases including cancer.
In the meantime researchers will continue to perfect their process and determine how it can be used most effectively in clinical settings.