Device monitors noisy knees to diagnose osteoarthritis

UK researchers have developed a device that identifies osteoarthritis through sounds emitted by the body.

The portable device could be used by health care professionals to assess patients with knee osteoarthritis regularly to see whether the knee is changing or responding to treatment.

In use, acoustic emissions (AE) sensors are attached to the surface of the knee to record short bursts of acoustic energy generated by stress on – and friction between – joints during weight-bearing movement.

UK researchers have developed a device that identifies osteoarthritis through sounds emitted by the body
UK researchers have developed a device that identifies osteoarthritis through sounds emitted by the body

An electrogoniometer is also attached to enable each acquired AE waveform to be linked to the angle of the knee. Data is processed and analysed based on the sound waveforms during different movement phases.

Lancaster University led the effort, which involved researchers from the University of Central Lancashire, Manchester University, the NHS and industry. 

According to Lancaster University, published results demonstrate that AE can distinguish not only between healthy and osteoarthritic knees, but also between knees in different age groups and differences in joint condition.

In a statement, Lancaster University’s Prof Goodacre, who is also a consultant rheumatologist, said: ‘Unlike an MRI scan, this approach can tell you what happens when the joint moves and it can also measure how the knee is changing over time.

‘Researchers are only just starting to explore the idea of listening to structures like joints, arteries or the intestines and seeing if the sounds they make can tell us about diseases. So this is a new field and the UK is leading in this area.’

The team has received £560,000 from the Medical Research Council and the project will see the recruitment of over 200 patients with various types of osteoarthritis so the technique can be further verified.

The project is being delivered through the Lancaster Health Hub, which brings together Lancaster with the University of Cumbria and many NHS organisations throughout Lancashire and Cumbria to work together on clinical research to improve health care.

If the new technology proves effective, it will be taken forward into clinical practice through the North West Coast Academic Health Science Network (AHSN).

In a related development, over £230m is being invested into medical research in Britain.

The Clinical Research Infrastructure Initiative will bring together funding from the government, devolved administrations, Arthritis Research UK, British Heart Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK, to advance clinical research in 23 key projects at centres across the country, including research teams at 15 universities.