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J Bone Miner Res. 2005 Nov;20(11):1968-72. Epub 2005 Jul 18.

Novel assessment of bone using time-resolved transcutaneous Raman spectroscopy.

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Royal Veterinary College, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom.


With fragility fractures increasing as the population ages, there is a need for improved means to estimate risk of fracture. We recorded Raman spectra of both the mineral and organic phases of bone transcutaneously, a technology with potential to enhance bone quality and fracture risk assessment.


The current "gold standard" assessment of bone quality is BMD determined by DXA. However, this accounts for only 60-70% of bone strength. X-rays are absorbed by the mineral phase of bone, whereas the organic phase remains essentially invisible; however, bone strength is critically dependent on both phases. We report, for the first time, a Raman spectroscopic technique that analyses both phases of bone beneath unbroken skin by eliminating spectral components of overlying tissues.


We used an 800-nm laser (1-kHz, 1-ps pulses) with a synchronized 4-ps Kerr gate with variable picosecond delay that effectively shuttered out photons from overlying tissues. We measured bone Raman spectra at a point 2 mm above the carpus from two mouse genotypes with extreme differences in bone matrix quality: wildtype and oim/oim (matched for age, sex, and weight). Typical depth was 1.1 mm. We repeated the measurements with overlying tissues removed down to bone. Oim/oim mice produce only homotrimeric collagen, which results in poorly mineralized bone tissue.


The main spectral features were present from both bone phases. The spectral bands were in similar ratios when measured through the skin or directly from bone (in both genotypes). The band of the mineral phase (phosphate nu1) was smaller in oim/oim mice when measured directly from bone and through skin. The band associated with a particular vibrational mode of organic phase collagen (CH2 wag) showed a frequency shift between the genotypes.


This novel technique allowed us, for the first time, to make objective transcutaneous spectral measurements of both the mineral and the organic phases of bones and distinguish between normal and unhealthy bone tissue. After further optimization, this technology may help improve fracture risk assessments and open opportunities for screening in anticipation of the predicted increase in fragility fractures.

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