Article

Journal of Materials Science: Materials in Medicine

, Volume 18, Issue 6, pp 969-974

Preliminary work on the development of a novel detection method for osteoporosis

  • P. MoranAffiliated withMaterials and Surface Science Institute, University of Limerick
  • , M. R. TowlerAffiliated withMaterials and Surface Science Institute, University of Limerick Email author 
  • , S. ChowdhuryAffiliated withMaterials and Surface Science Institute, University of Limerick
  • , J. SaundersAffiliated withDepartment of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Limerick
  • , M. J. GermanAffiliated withDepartment of Physics, University of Lancaster
  • , N. S. LawsonAffiliated withDepartment of Physics, University of Lancaster
  • , H. M. PollockAffiliated withDepartment of Physics, University of Lancaster
  • , I. PillayAffiliated withClinical Age Assessment Unit, Limerick Regional Hospital
  • , D. LyonsAffiliated withClinical Age Assessment Unit, Limerick Regional Hospital

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Abstract

Osteoporosis affects both the organic and mineral phases of bone resulting in a decrease in resistance to fracture. Dual x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scans are used for diagnosing osteoporosis, which is conventionally characterised by a decrease in mineral density. Unfortunately, some patients who suffer osteoporotic fractures have normal bone density, because both the organic and the mineral phase are affected. However, there are currently no methods of evaluating the health of the organic phase. Patients undergoing treatment for osteoporosis have reported hardening of their fingernails. As the properties of nail and bone may be linked in a comparable, measurable way, this work used both mechanical (nano-indentation) and chemical (Raman spectroscopy) methods to evaluate differences between fingernails sourced from osteoporotic and non-osteoporotic patients. The difference in mean modulus between the nails sourced from the groups was 1.1 GPa. The disulphide bond content of fingernail samples from each group was measured by Raman spectroscopy and disulphide bond content of fingernail was found to be significantly lower in the osteoporotic group. It can be concluded that a relationship between the mechanical and chemical properties of nail and bone may exist in a measurable way. This work has suggested that changes in the organic phase of bone are reflected in similar proteins, such as keratin, from which fingernails are composed. Collagen and keratin are two distinct structural proteins, but they share the need for protein sulphation and disulphide bond formation, via cysteine, for their structural integrity. A disorder of either process should lead to disordered collagen and keratin synthesis.