Raman spectroscopy tests for osteoporosis using a toenail clipping

By Lee Mather

Research done by Mark Towler, a professor of Biomedical Materials Engineering Science at the Inamori School of Engineering at Alfred University (Alfred, NY), can predict fracture risk due to bone loss associated with osteoporosis using a toenail clipping, determining risk without subjecting the patient to an X-ray or ultrasound scan. Towler’s test, dubbed the Bone Quality Test (BQT), uses Raman spectroscopy. Done at the point-of-care, the BQT involves aiming a 785 nm laser beam with power up to 400 mW at a toenail clipping from a subject. Then, the information recorded from the laser beam evaluates the presence of certain proteins in the nail clipping, measuring the quality of the protein phase of the subject’s bones.

The idea for the BQT came from Towler’s observation with osteoporosis patients that their nails improved in strength and appearance following medication for the disease. Deciding to investigate further, Towler conducted a small pilot trial, which found that the nails of those with osteoporosis had different mechanical properties from healthy controls. Raman spectroscopy analyses showed differences in the protein structures between the two sets of nails, suggesting a possible link between the protein content of the nail and bone health. And using Raman spectroscopy requires limited sample preparation and no reagents, making it attractive for clinical settings.

The BQT can pre-screen patients who do not have symptoms of osteoporosis as well, enabling huge cost savings in medical care, says Ernest Poku, CEO of Crescent Diagnostics (Dublin, Ireland), which Towler co-founded in 2004.

So, what’s next for the BQT? BioOptics World learned that Crescent hopes to optimize it by improving discrimination and instrumentation to expand its potential market. When asked about application in bone cancer detection, the company does not foresee use in that area, but hopes to expand into disease areas from an early detection/prevention standpoint.

Crescent hopes to launch the BQT test within a year in Europe and expand into the U.S. market in the next 18 months, pending U.S. FDA approval.

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