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"Osteoarthritis scanner" in development


Recognize joint wear before the symptoms start
With arthrosis (joint wear), the symptoms usually only appear in the advanced stage and the wear that has already occurred is no longer reversible. However, early diagnosis could help prevent joint damage. With a special infrared sensor, degenerative changes in the cartilage may be detectable before painful arthrosis develops, reports the University of Ulm.

The researchers led by the Ulm chemist Prof. Boris Mizaikoff are working on an infrared sensor that is to be used in the course of minimally invasive articulation to detect degenerative changes in the cartilage. The MIRACLE project, in which 13 European partners from research and industry are involved, will receive a total of 6.1 million euros as part of the EU's Horizon 2020 framework program, according to the Ulm University. The “arthrosis scanner” should be ready for the market in just over three years.

Preserve joints as long as possible
In advanced age, numerous women and men suffer from painful signs of wear and tear on the joints, which are referred to as osteoarthritis. Joint wear is irreversible and early countermeasures are required to curb cartilage abrasion or to keep the affected joint as long as possible. However, this also requires early diagnosis of the degenerative changes. European research institutions and companies from six countries coordinated by the Finnish University of Oulu are therefore working on the MIRACLE project to develop a new diagnostic procedure.

Minimally invasive joint mirroring with an arthrosis scanner
The research team led by Professor Boris Mizaikoff, head of the Ulm Institute for Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, is involved in the development of the new method based on a sensor in the medium infrared range. This sensor is intended to be used during a surgical procedure and to detect changes in cartilage before arthrosis develops. "The new sensor detects molecular changes in the course of minimally invasive joint mirroring (arthroscopy) and could be an important asset for patient care and research," reports the University of Ulm.

Detect cartilage injuries early
In the case of arthrosis, the typical symptoms such as start-up pain, morning stiffness and reduced resilience usually only show up in the advanced stage. "The diagnosis using imaging procedures or joint mirroring is often only made when the protective cartilage has already been badly worn and the joint surfaces may already rub against each other," reports the University of Ulm. In many cases, however, the progression of the disease and ultimately the replacement of the joint could be delayed if injuries to the cartilage were recognized and treated early. New diagnostic methods are therefore in demand and the arthroscopic infrared sensor offers a promising starting point here.

Better therapy control is also the goal
"In addition to improved immediate diagnostics, this measurement technique can also be used to check the success of new therapies," explains Professor Mizaikoff, whose team is currently developing the prototype of the arthroscopic infrared sensor. The Ulm researchers are bringing their expertise in the field of infrared spectroscopy and the miniaturization of molecular-specific sensor technologies to the project, according to the university. The new sensor is based "on a series of tunable quantum cascade lasers, an integrated beam combiner, infrared fiber optic fibers, and a sensor element that is used in the mid-infrared range for spectroscopy and imaging," explains Prof. Mizaikoff.

Prototype of the arthrosis scanner has already convinced
According to the researchers, integrating all of the necessary components into a highly compact format that allows actual use during the arthroscopic procedure is a particular challenge. A miniaturized prototype had already convinced in the run-up to the project. In meniscus samples, for example, pathological changes, but also atherosclerotic deposits on the inside of the blood vessels were successfully detected and classified. "In the course of an articulation mirroring, MIRACLE should be easy to handle for the surgeon and deliver accurate results, which is why the sensor should be developed to market maturity as quickly as possible," reports the University of Ulm. With the help of the arthrosis scanner, the scientists also hope to gain a better understanding of how the disease develops and develops. (fp)

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