An innovative CT scanner, one of only five in the world, is providing researchers in Vancouver with detailed information like they have never seen before.
The Xtremescan is not like other standard CT machines. At Vancouver General Hospital's Centre for Hip Health, a scan taken of Barbara Wallace's foot has given doctors a completely different view of her bone's structure.
Dr. Melonie Burrows says, "What it gives us is a really in depth, detailed look at bones. So we can see the 3D structure of the bone."
Previous, the traditional way of measuring bone density -- is through a bone mineral density scan. But it only takes a picture of the bone's surface.
The Xtremescan's perspective goes beyond that -- so researchers can get a better understanding of bone fractures -- and osteoporosis.
"It gives us an idea of what is really related to fracture so the bone has a couple of structures within it, and if we can look at those and see how they develop over time and become stronger, that will give us a real handled on how to reduce fracture risk."
For now, the machine is only being used in studies.
Dr. Burrows adds, "This is a randomized trial looking at strength training in adults and to see how that impacts on fall risk, cognitive function and in particular, the bone structure."
"I want to be out and stay active and enjoy life." says Barbara, adding, "Obviously if you're fit you're enjoying life more and all it has to offer. So I'm thrilled to be a part of the program."
The machine will also be used for long term studies with children because it gives off less radiation than traditional machines.
"We can see as these children grow and mature by taking various forms of exercise and have varied diets, how that's actually impacting on their bone structure." says Dr. Burrows, adding that knowledge could one day help prevent diseases common with aging.
Does participating in the studies mean some radiation exposure?
It does, but at a very low dose -- equivalent to exposure levels in daily life. It's about the same amount that you would get from two days in the sun in Vancouver or taking one trans-Atlantic flight to Europe. Now, on another note, some scientists believe we overestimate the preventative ability of osteoporosis drugs. The real key is to avoid falling and a focus of the studies at the centre for hip health to look for new strategies that will help.
How can people find out more about participating in these studies?
The participants say they get a lot out of the studies -- they have fun and they feel a lot more confident doing things like walking on slippery streets. One study looks at strength training on bone structure in seniors to hopefully decrease future fracture risk. Participants have their bone quality assessed, and personal training sessions. If you'd like to find out how to participate, go to the Centre for Hip Health website at http://www.hiphealth.ca/, follow the links to 'About us' and then 'Participate in a study.'