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Astronaut-inspired bone test could speed up diagnoses

WASHINGTON--A simple urine test could soon reveal more about a person's bones than X-rays, U.S. researchers said Tuesday after publishing results of an early phase study funded by NASA.

The technique could help astronauts cope with the bone loss that can occur in weightless environments like space, but may also have broad implications for people who suffer from osteoporosis or cancers that may spread to the bones.

“Right now there aren't very good ways to detect bone loss before there has already been a fair amount of bone loss,” said senior author Ariel Anbar, a professor at Arizona State University's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

“This is something new that we are developing. This is not a technique they (NASA) have worked with before so they have invested in our research to see if there is a better or complementary way to address their issues,” he told AFP.

The method measures calcium isotopes, which are essentially atoms of an element that differ in mass. These isotopes are present in a person's urine and serve as an indicator of bone strength based on the balance of minerals.

The study measured bone loss in a dozen healthy volunteers who participated by agreeing to sustained periods of bed rest over the course of 30 days.

Bed rest is a condition which mirrors weightlessness in space and can lead to bone loss.

The new test could detect bone loss in as little as 10 days after the bed rest began.

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