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MIT researchers probe bones' tiny building blocks

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.In work that could lead to more effective diagnoses and treatments of bone diseases using only a pinhead-sized sample of a patient's bone, MIT researchers report a first-of-its-kind analysis of bone's mechanical properties.

The work, reported in the May 21 advance online edition of Nature Materials, sheds new light on how bone absorbs energy.

The researchers' up-close-and-personal look at bone probes its fundamental building blocka corkscrew-shaped protein called collagen embedded with tiny nanoparticles of mineralat the level of tens of nanometers, or billionths of a meter. A human hair, by comparison, is 80,000 nanometers in diameter.

"If you want to investigate the origins of the strength and toughness of a material, you probe it at smaller and smaller length scales," said co-author Subra Suresh, Ford Professor of Engineering, with appointments in materials science and engineering, biological engineering, mechanical engineering and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. "The methodologies used in this research can be employed to assess the quality of bone with extremely high precision by providing new and detailed structural and mechanical information on the nature of its fundamental constituents."

The insights gained from the work could also lead to the creation of new, tougher materials, he said.

The study was led by Christine Ortiz, associate professor of materials science and engineering. "The structure, quality and integrity of bone change dramatically with age and disease, hence understanding the origins of the mechanical properties of this major load-bearing, structural tissue in our body is extremely important from a medical standpoint," Ortiz said.

Using a table-top instrument called a molecular force probe, which uses an extremely small probe tip to poke out a tiny fragment of bone, Ortiz and colleagues mapped the stiffness of bovine shin bone into com
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Contact: Elizabeth Thomson
thomson@mit.edu
617-258-5402
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
24-May-2007


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