Scientists from Trinity and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) have created a new scanning technique that produces high resolution 3D images of bones without exposing the patient to x-ray radiation. Led by Thorri Gunnlaugsson a professor in Trinity’s department of chemistry and Dr. Esther Surender a postdoctoral researcher, the research will have significant consequences for the health sector. Possible uses include diagnosis of bone strength and providing additional information on the extent and location of damage to bones. With this additional information the need for bone implants could be avoided in many cases. The technique could also act as an early warning system for degenerative diseases such as osteoporosis. The technique, published in the leading journal Chem, works by attaching luminescent compounds to tiny gold structures. These form biologically safe nanoagents that stick to calcium-rich surfaces, which appear when bones crack. These nanoagents target and highlight the cracks formed in bones, from which researchers can create a 3D image of the damaged area. Another major step lies in its non-reliance on x-rays, which have been previously associated with an increased risk of cancer.
Professor Gunnlaugsson said; “The nanoagent we have developed allows us to visualise the nature and the extent of the damage in a manner that wasn’t previously possible.” Relating to the nanoagent’s potential clinical applications, Dr. Esther Surender said; “Firstly, by using gold nanoparticles, we were able to lower the overall concentration of the agent that would have to be administered within the body, which is ideal from a clinical perspective. Secondly, by using what is called ‘two-photon excitation’ we were able to image bone structure using long wavelength excitation, which is not harmful or damaging to biological tissues.”