New diagnostic could spur early bone loss detection

Scientists at Arizona State University have teamed up with NASA to develop a new way to detect bone loss: testing the calcium in urine.

In a radiation-free procedure, the scientists analyze calcium isotopes in patients' urine, ScienceDaily reports. Using a model developed by ASU professor Joseph Skulan, the scientists can compare the various-sized isotopes to determine whether patients' bone density is decreasing.

The partnership with NASA came naturally: Bone deterioration can strike when a person experiences skeletal unloading--a result of bones not having to carry weight--and that's common in both hospital patients and astronauts. So, with NASA funding, the scientists studied the urine of 12 healthy, but bed-ridden patients, finding that their method could detect bone loss after just a week of bed rest, much faster than the current method of X-ray absorptiometry.

ASU and NASA presented their findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and, with proof of concept in hand, the researchers hope to expand the method to detect bone-density changes in cancer patients. "We showed that the concept works as expected in healthy people in a well-defined experiment," senior author Ariel Anbar told ScienceDaily. "The next step is to see if it works as expected in patients with bone-altering diseases. That would open the door to clinical applications."

- read the ScienceDaily article