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Ultrasound Tickles Bone Cells Into Action

July 18, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Musculoskeletal Radiology
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Targeting osteoblasts with medium-intensity focused ultrasound stimulates the mobility of the cells and triggers the release of calcium, thus potentially promoting bone growth.

So concluded researchers led by Yi-Xian Qin, PhD, of Stony Brook University in New York. Dr. Qin is professor of biomedical engineering and director of the Orthopaedic Bioengineering Research Laboratory at Stony Brook.

In a study published last month in PLoS One, the researchers said:

Our results indicate that pulsed radiation as used in this study induces acoustomechanical effects in osteoblastic cells through the acoustic radiation force mechanism.

In other words, they determined that it was ultrasound’s physical stimulation of the bone-forming osteoblasts that triggered the bone-producing activity. That makes sense; other physical stimuli, such as exercise, are known to affect bone growth.

“Wavelengths of ultrasound in the Mhz range are much larger than the size of osteoblastic cell,” the study says. “As a result, in the pulsed radiation field without microbubbles, the cell undergoes only uniform compression or expansion. This type of mechanical action can be experienced by the whole cell.”

The researchers ruled out other thermal and nonthermal mechanisms related to ultrasound that might have affected the cells. They also noted that the pulsed stimulation caused no noticeable cell death.

Eventually, this work could lead to new methods of using ultrasound to promote bone growth and healing. However, this particular study used cell cultures under a microscope. The PLoS One article notes, “The study was conducted under very simple and limited conditions.”

So the research is currently at the proof-of-concept stage. Earlier research has established that ultrasound can noninvasively promote bone fracture healing. Dr. Qin and his colleagues are zeroing in on the mechanism.

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