Computer software linked to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) developed by a Cambridge University radiologist could help to prevent arthritis and rheumatology in elderly patients.
Professor Laurie Hall believes that knee and hand injuries that occur in youth can trigger osteoarthritis in knees and rheumatology in hands 10 or 20 years later. His MRI scanner, which will go on trial in 2002, detects hydrogen atoms in the body that are composed of water and fat, scattered throughout different types of tissue. By creating a picture and looking for changes in the ratios of water, collagen and proteoglycans which make up the protective bulk of the cartilage the software detects the difference between damaged and normal. Once arthritis sets in, rogue enzymes cut through the collagen molecules weakening the cartilage that grows thinner. The bones try to compensate by growing thicker and knees become painful, surfaces roughen and eventually meet.
Although such injuries in youth appear to heal themselves, Professor Hall believes even low-key damage can cause problems in later life.