Computing Bone Fracture Risk

Researchers have teamed up to create the most detailed simulated image of the human bone structure.

Researchers from the ETH Zurich Department of Mechanical and Process Engineering and Computer Science and the IBM Zurich Research Laboratory have teamed up to create the most detailed simulated image of the human bone structure to date, achieved by combining “density measurements with a large-scale mechanical analysis of the innerbone microstructure.” Using a Blue Gene supercomputer, scientists were able to obtain a “dynamic ‘heat map’ of strain, which changes with the load applied to the bone. This map shows the clinician exactly where and under what load a bone is likely to fracture.” The map can also aid clinicians in determining osteoporotic damage better, along with its exact location.

Such large scale calculations would not have been possible without the Blue Gene/L supercomputer. The first simulation of a 5 x 5 mm piece of bone had the computer generating 90 Gigabytes of data within 20 minutes. This would not have been possible 10 years ago. The most advanced supercomputer at the time, the Deep Blue, would not have had enough system memory, and even if it had, it would have needed about a week to calculate the data. In another 10 years, the researchers are expecting computers with similar capabilities to today’s supercomputers to be available in the mass market, making this kind of information quickly available for diagnosis and treatment. Until then, the scientists are working to “go beyond the calculation of static bone strength and to be able to simulate the actual formation of the fractures for individual patients.”

The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that 10 million (8 million women and 2 million men) are affected by osteoporosis in the US, and 50% of women and 25% of men will experience an osteoporosis-related fracture during their lifetime. The NOF also calculated that in 2005, the US’s osteoporosis-related fracture costs totaled about $19 billion, and by 2025 the costs will increase to $25.3 billion.

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