Touching Lives - February 2007
Measuring blood flow to broken bones
Estimates suggest that about seven million people of all ages sustain significant fractures every year in the UK. Complex fractures are very difficult to treat, and patients often need extensive surgery. Treatments vary according to the nature of the break and any disruption to the bone’s blood supply, which is crucial for proper healing.
The problem is that blood flow within bones is very poorly understood. Surgeons have no routine way of assessing it and are often forced to make critical decisions about treating fractures without knowing how the bone’s blood supply has been affected.
Using an Action Medical Research grant of almost £29,000, Professor Roger Atkins of Bristol Royal Infirmary will work with colleagues at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford to find out whether a new way of taking MRI scans, called ultra short echo time (UTE) imaging, can measure blood flow in broken bones.
Breakthrough studies have already shown that the new technique can provide images of the blood vessels within bones, when patients have an injection of a dye-like substance called gadolinium before their scan.
The researchers will first scan the shins of ten fractureless volunteers to see if they can measure how blood flows through healthy bones. Next, they will scan 20 patients who have broken their leg and monitor their recovery, taking at least one more scan as the fracture heals.They hope the results will show how fractures and the healing process affect blood flow through bones. Being able to assess bone blood flow would help surgeons select the most appropriate treatment, and monitor recovery more accurately.