Irish researchers develop higher resolution 3-D images of bones, eliminating need for X-rays

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin have developed a new way of producing very high resolution 3-D images of bones using nanoagents, eliminating the need to use X-rays that expose patients to radiation.

The chemists, working in collaboration with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, attached luminescent compounds to minute gold structures to form biologically safe nanoagents that are attracted to calcium-rich surfaces like human bone. The nanoagents can target even microfractures in bone and highlight fissures, thereby providing a complete 3-D image of a damaged area. (See video.)

The research recently appeared in the journal Chem, which is published by CellPress.

The technique can be used to diagnose bone strength and give healthcare professionals a location and detailed perspective of any weakness or injury, the researchers said. Such information could help prevent the need for bone implants in many cases and act as an early-warning system for people at a high risk of degenerative bone diseases, such as osteoporosis.

“The nanoagent we have developed allows us to visualize the nature and the extent of the damage in a manner that wasn't previously possible,” Thorri Gunnlaugsson, who led the Trinity College Dublin team, said in a statement. “This is a major step forward in our endeavor to develop targeted contrast agents for bone diagnostics for use in clinical applications.”

The Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Research Council funded the work.