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Yi-Xian Qin, Ph.D., associate team leader for NSBRI’s Smart Medical Systems and Technology Team, calls the new technology Scanning Confocal Acoustic Navigation (SCAN). This technology is more advanced than existing ultrasound technology because SCAN assesses bone parameters beyond mineral density, namely bone qualities such as strength, structure and stiffness. The team expects to develop a small, mobile SCAN device that would be easy for patients to use.
“SCAN uses non-invasive and non-destructive ultrasound to image bone, and the technology enables us to identify weak regions, as well as make a diagnosis and to assist in healing fractures,” says Dr. Qin. “Because with SCAN we can assess bone qualities, such as stiffness, we can predict the risk of fracture, as quality of bone rather than density is more of a predictor of fracture risk.”
Dr. Qin is currently conducting clinical evaluations of the diagnostic component of SCAN. He uses a mobile ultrasound device that runs off a laptop computer that can image a heal or wrist in about five minutes to assess multiple parameters of bone. Also under development is the capability to scan the knee and hip.
Dr. Qin and his team at Stony Brook and the NSBRI are also developing the therapeutic portion of the technology. The goal is to create a device that effectively accelerates fracture healing by stimulating bone regeneration. Ultrasound has been used to heal fractures with better accuracy and effectiveness at the fracture site than the current technology. This is where Dr. Qin’s guided approach will be beneficial.
“We are trying to use ultrasound technology as a way to get an image of the fracture site,” explains Dr. Qin. “An integrated probe will directly shoot ultrasound into the region of the fracture. We hope this will result in effective acceleration of fracture healing.”
According to Dr. Qin and colleagues, SCAN technology is potentially an ideal tool for health care providers on earth who care for an increasing elderly population. In addition, the device in development would have much more capabilities and be smaller, easier, and cheaper to use than current X-ray based bone density measurement machines.
NSBRI, funded by NASA, is a consortium of institutions studying the health risks related to long-duration spaceflight. The institute’s science, technology and education projects take place at more than 60 U.S. institutions.