Innovative technology could transform osteoporosis diagnosis using routine x-rays

Innovative new technology developed in partnership with the University of Exeter could transform osteoporosis diagnosis by flagging people at risk of developing the disorder sooner using routine x-rays.

A new study led by experts at the University of Exeter, and published in the JBMR® Plus journal, has found that new technology which works alongside x-rays is as predictive as currently used DXA scans in predicting osteoporosis of the hips and spine. Researchers are now optimistic that the software will offer a route which may be cheaper and quicker than current screening methods.

Osteoporosis is a skeletal disorder affecting approximately three million people in the UK. The disorder affects bone density, and leaves people more vulnerable to bone fractures. Osteoporosis typically affects the elderly population, and it can be notoriously hard to spot until after a broken bone has occurred.

Osteoporosis diagnosis currently uses DXA scans to measure bone mineral density. These scans are not usually included in routine health check-ups unless specific risk factors are present, or a fracture brings the condition to attention. Even with a referral there can be lengthy waiting periods – one of the longest in Europe – for DXA scans.

The IBEX Bone Health software, which has been developed by IBEX Innovations in partnership with the University of Exeter, reviews data from other routine healthcare imaging procedures to flag the disorder at an earlier stage. The current product is applied to wrist x-rays, with future studies working up the software for hip, knee and ankle images. Early detection opens up more treatment options, mitigates long-term consequences, and eases the burden on the NHS.

The team has recently launched the first UK clinical implementation of IBEX Bone Health at Truro Hospital, part of the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, with a pilot project using anonymised x-rays. More future clinical trials are planned.

Dr Robert Meertens, Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter, said: “We know health services for osteoporosis diagnosis are stretched in the UK. We believe our collaborative research can contribute to a novel pathway for earlier identification of people at a high risk of low impact fractures. With earlier treatment, we can reduce the pain and high costs of fractures in the elderly.”

The paper “Development of an opportunistic diagnostic prediction algorithm for osteoporosis and fragility fracture risk estimates from forearm radiographs (the OFFER1 study)” is published in the JBMR® Plus journal.