Touching Lives - December 2004
New osteoporosis study underway
Britain’s ageing population means that the debilitating condition osteoporosis is becoming more common, in both men and women. Thousands of people each year suffer fractures as their bone density diminishes due to hormonal changes — and spinal fractures are among the most problematic.
New techniques to inject ‘cement’ into damaged vertebrae have been pioneered in France and used in the UK for several years — but Action Medical Research has awarded £90,000 to the first major study into their impact on the actual function of the spine.
While ‘bone cement’ has been shown to strengthen damaged bone and can ease the pain of a fracture, little is known about its effect on the way the spine moves and bears loads. Understanding more could pave the way for improved techniques which may be enhanced by the use of ‘bio-compatible cements’ that may actually promote bone growth around them, further strengthening the vertebrae.
A team from the University of Bristol and the Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham, is embarking on a two-year study into the injection procedure, which is known as vertebroplasty. It will look specifically at its effect on the load-bearing properties of the spine. If techniques used can restore a normal pattern of load-bearing between vertebrae, and improve posture, they may alleviate pain and protect against future damage and progressive deformity.
Co-grantholder on the project Dr Trish Dolan said, “The cement technique has been used successfully to strengthen bone and ease the pain caused by osteoporotic fractures in the spine. What’s not known is the impact of the cement on the mechanical function of the vertebrae and intervertebral discs. It inevitably changes the spine’s load-bearing properties, and ^we want to study this change and look at how using this technique impacts on the mechanics of the spine as a whole^.”
“It could be that artificially stiffening and strengthening one part of the spine exacerbates the problem in another site close by, such as the intervertebral disc. Different types and quantities of cement, and its placement in the vertebral body, may have varying impacts on the spine’s mechanical function, but we simply don’t know.”
Osteoporosis is responsible for more spinal fractures than anything else. Such fractures cause great pain and can lead to progressive deformity in the spine, often characterised by a humped upper back.
Dr Dolan added, “Vertebroplasty has tremendous possibilities — a biologically-active cement could actually promote bone growth at the bone-cement interface, and Kyphoplasty, an adaptation of the original technique, may restore the shape of vertebrae and help reverse spinal deformity. We hope to gain a better understanding of the mechanical consequences of these techniques, which should help to improve outcomes for patients in the longer-term.”
Thanks go to The HSA Charitable Trust for their support of this grant.