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Stony Brook OBRL Director Leads Research in Early Prediction of Bone Loss

Research Summary

Yi-Xian Qin, Ph.D., Director of the Orthopedic Bioengineering Research Laboratory at Stony Brook University, and colleagues at Stony Brook and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) in Houston, have developed a new ultrasound technology to assess multiple parameters of hard tissue-like bone. As associate team leader for NSBRI's Smart Medical Systems and Technology Team, Dr. Qin calls the new technology Scanning Confocal Acoustic Navigation (SCAN). This technology is more advanced than existing ultrasound technology because SCAN assesses bone parameters beyond mineral density, namely bone qualities such as strength, structure and stiffness. "SCAN uses non-invasive and non-destructive ultrasound to image bone, and the technology enables us to identify weak regions, as well as make a diagnosis and assist in healing fractures," says Dr. Qin. The team expects to develop a small, mobile SCAN device that would be patient-friendly.

The technology may lead to early prediction of bone loss, as in diseases such as osteoporosis, and will first be used to assist astronauts during long-duration space flights. Similar to elderly adults on earth, astronauts in space also lose bone structure and quality. Stress-related fractures are a major concern for astronauts during long missions into space. Dr. Qin says the fracture rate could be high on the moon due to workload force, heavy spacesuits, and gravity that is one-sixth that of earth's gravity. Testing the technology under these circumstances in space will be beneficial to those with osteoporosis or other bone disorders because of their added risk of fracture.

Current Research Focus
Currently, Dr. Qin is conducting clinical evaluations of the diagnostic component of SCAN. He uses a mobile ultrasound device that runs off a laptop computer that can image a heel or wrist in about five minutes to assess multiple parameters of bone, with developmental capabilities to scan the knee and hip.

Dr. Qin and his team at Stony Brook and the NSBRI are also developing the therapeutic portion of the technology. The goal is to create a device that effectively accelerates fracture healing by stimulating bone regeneration. His team strives for a device with greater capabilities to assess and treat an increasing elderly population.

In particular, Dr. Qin’s research focuses on the physical mechanisms in the control of tissue growth, healing, and homeostasis, particularly bone adaptation and regeneration as influenced by the mechanical environment. The studies look to mechanisms which can be utilized in the treatment and prevention of disease, as well as for injury and bone tissue engineering. While bone can sense and respond to biomechanical stimuli towards the achievement and maintenance of a structurally appropriate skeletal structure, bone tissue also has the ability to differentiate between mechanical signals of shear and normal strain, cycle number, loading frequency, and even fluid pressure and its gradients. Dr. Qin focuses on the development of non-invasive scanning acoustic diagnostic systems for tissue quality, and therapeutic ultrasound. He seeks to develop a new technology to enable a better understanding of the progressive adaptation of bone loss in aging populations and the microgravity environment. The technology will be used for assessing and treating musculoskeletal disorders such as osteoporosis and also for accelerating fracture healing.

Research Projects
  • Bone fluid flow and mechanotransduction evaluates bone fluid pressure with time-varying mechanical strain to improve understanding of functional vertebrate morphology and etiologic processes in musculoskeletal diseases, including possible treatment regimens and acceleration of fracture repair.
  • Implant fixation and fracture healing recognizes the bone’s ability to respond to pressure and resultant fluid flow which arises in the cortical bone matrix by the time-varying mechanical strain, as indicative of how bone cells sense the signal for adaptation. 
  • Noninvasive diagnostic and therapeutic ultrasound bioinstrumentation facilitates the early diagnosis of musculoskeletal complications and leads to prompt treatment to dramatically reduce the risk of complication. Current dual-energy X-ray absorptionmetry (DEXA) and implementation of novel scanning acoustic diagnostic ultrasonic techniques non-invasively detect spatial distribution of bone quality.
  • Low-magnitude, oscillatory physical regulations are investigated by quantifying the bone remodeling response to a relatively high frequency loading and ultrasonic stimulation regimen. New bone was found in the low-cycle, high-strain magnitude group; a strong correlation was observed between the preservation of bone mass and longitudinal normal strain.

Patents and Disclosures
  • Qin, Y-X. , Lin, W. and Rubin, C.T.: Frequency Scanning of Ultrasound Attenuation as a Diagnostic to Determine Bone Physical Properties (R-7424). Patent Pending, 2001.
  • Qin, Y-X. , Lin, W. and Rubin, C.T.: Method and Apparatus for Scanning Confocal Acoustic Diagnostic for Bone Quality (R-7450). Patent Pending (Provisional Application #60/271,957), 2001. 
  • Qin, Y-X. , Zhu, L., Young, C. and Hsu, W.: A Transducer with Piezoelectric Foil for Measuring Forces, Chinese Patent No. 12144, 1988. 
  • Shao, Q., Qin, Y-X. and Wang, W.: The Stabilizer of Liquid Flow Velocity Used in a Flow-meter for Measuring Flow Velocity and Quantity, Chinese Patent No. 1896, 1986.

Funding Sources
  • National Space Biomedical Research Institute
  • National Institutes of Health 
  • U.S. Army Medical Research 
  • New York Advanced Centers for Technology
  • New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation

Contact Info
Yi-Xian Qin, Professor
Director, Orthopaedic Bioengineering Research Laboratory
Room 350, Psychology-A Building, 3rd Floor
Stony Brook, N.Y. 11794-2580
Email: Yi-Xian.Qin@sunysb.edu