VERDICT: Using the computer to better identify spine fractures

Disease - Osteoporosis, back pain

Lead applicant - Professor Alejandro Frangi

Organisation - University of Leeds

Type of grant - Translation

Status of grant - Active

Amount of the original award - £98,735.09

Start date - 1 April 2017

Reference - 21498

Public Summary

What are the aims of this research?

Osteoporosis is a common bone disease, which causes the bones to become fragile and more likely to break. Anyone can get osteoporosis but women are about four times more likely than men to develop it. One of the most frequent consequences in patients with osteoporosis is a fractured spine, but these fractures may sometimes go undetected as patients don’t suffer any symptoms. This research aims to develop a standard computerised approach that can reliably detect and analyse spinal fractures in patients with osteoporosis.

Why is this research important?

Currently, there is no standardised method to analyse the extent of spinal fractures in osteoporotic patients. Patients usually undergo spine imaging with either conventional x-ray imaging or dual x-ray absorptiometry (DXA). DXA offers the advantage of not only showing the bone structure, but also provides measurements of bone mineral density. Both techniques are however, two-dimensional and current analysis methods require manual intervention, specialist training and usually a long learning curve. Hence, mild fractures are sometimes going undiagnosed. This can be dangerous as once patients suffer from their first fracture, it has been shown they are much more likely to suffer from a second fracture. Early detection of spinal fractures is thus very important. This research will develop a new computer aided approach to three-dimensional spine modelling that will enable spine DXA images to be objectively analysed and small fractures to be identified. The software will be user friendly to ease take up by clinical staff and its use in diagnosis.

How will the findings benefit patients?

This research will enable faster and more consistent diagnosis of spinal fractures in osteoporosis patients across the country. Being able to diagnose spinal fractures early and consistently will mean that osteoporosis patients can receive the correct treatment quickly, and ensure their condition is monitored appropriately to prevent other spinal fractures from occurring.