Hi-res imaging gives a more accurate picture of joint behaviour

Date posted

25 November 2019


Researchers have created a new technique that can determine with more accuracy than ever before how knee joints behave in health and in conditions such as osteoarthritis.

Scientists from Edinburgh Napier, Royal Veterinary College, UCL, Oregon State University and 3Dmagination developed the ground-breaking technique, supported by technology and equipment provided by Diamond Light Source.

Osteoarthritis is a condition that causes joints, which respond to and absorb loads over a lifetime by deforming or straining their constituent tissues, to become painful and stiff.  

The research was carried out in order to develop a technique which enabled high-resolution imaging and quantification of strains to help achieve a greater understanding of how our joints react as osteoarthritis progresses. It has provided one of the first complete, multiscale looks at what’s going on in joints afflicted by the debilitating condition.

Head and shoulders porttrait of Katherie Staines

The study points the way to better understanding of how interventions like diet, drugs and exercise affect a joint’s cells, which is important because cells do the work of developing, maintaining and repairing tissue.

It involved the development of a sophisticated scanning technique to view arthritic joints when “loaded” or under strain. Researchers found a way to conduct nanoscale imaging of complete bones and whole joints under precisely controlled loads.

To do that, they had to enhance resolution without compromising the field of view, reduce total radiation exposure to preserve tissue mechanics, and prevent movement during scanning.

With low-dose pink-beam synchrotron X-ray tomography, and mechanical loading with nanometric precision, they could simultaneously measure the structural organisation and functional response of the tissues. Joints could be examined from the tissue layers down to the cellular level, with a large field of view and high resolution.

This study revealed new insights into the mechanical and structural relationship between the articular cartilage, which must last a lifetime to protect joints from damage during movement, and the other joint tissues. Specifically, it showed that the structure of these tissues at the cellular level correlated with the mechanical performance of the whole joint.

While it is early days, with the need for more research, the team is excited by the prospect of how this new technique will be applied to gain transformational insights into what is a major healthcare burden.

Katherine Staines (above), Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow at Edinburgh Napier and an expert on the musculoskeletal system, said: “Our development of this technique will undoubtedly bring new understanding to how our joints behave during ageing and in diseases such as osteoarthritis. This is important as osteoarthritis is a major financial, social and healthcare burden worldwide.”

The full paper can be accessed here through Nature Research.

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