One of the problems facing astronauts conducting long term space flight is that their bones start to lose calcium, similar to what happens to people with osteoporosis. With that problem in mind, the crew of the International Space Station have partnered with a group of US geochemists, biologists and clinicians, from Arizona State University and the Mayo Clinic to create a real-time test for osteoporosis and bone cancer, according to Space Daily. If the machine that administers the test is adopted by the biotechnology industry, it will naturally have a host of earthly applications.
The current tests for bone cancer and osteoporosis take a before and after image of the bone, which means that these diseases are diagnosed after the damage has been done. The new test uses a mass spectrometry device to measure the ratio of calcium isotopes 42Ca and 44Ca in bone. Lighter calcium isotopes such as 42Ca are released into the bone from the bloodstream during bone formation. On the other hand, 42Ca leaches away from the bone into the bloodstream when the bones start to deteriorate. The test measures the ratio of the two isotopes in blood and urine to measure the rate of bone loss.
The test is still in development. But when it does come to a clinical setting, patients won’t have to have a bone scan to determine whether or not something is wrong with their bones. The test would be part of a blood or urine test, which means in many cases disease can be caught before symptoms become apparent. That means that treatment could begin much earlier than hitherto has been the case.
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