Keeping an eye on cartilage

Georgia Tech researchers have combined existing technologies to give high-resolution imaging of cartilage which could be used in research on the progression and treatment of osteoarthritis.



Microcomputed tomography (microCT) yields 3D X-ray images with a resolution 100 times higher than clinical CT scans. It is commonly used to image bone for osteoporosis research but has not been useful for imaging soft biological tissues such as cartilage. These tissues do not interfere with the microCT’s X-rays as they pass through a sample, and therefore do not show up on scans.



By combining microCT with an X-ray-absorbing contrast agent that has a negative charge, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology were able to image the distribution of negatively charged molecules called proteoglycans (PGs). These molecules are critical to the proper functioning of cartilage.



‘By detecting PG content and distribution, the technique reveals information about both the thickness and composition of the cartilage — important factors for monitoring the progression and treatment of osteoarthritis,’ said Associate Professor Marc Levenston in Georgia Tech’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering.



He and Associate Professor Robert Guldberg, also in the School of Mechanical Engineering, collaborated to establish and validate the principle of the technique, dubbed Equilibrium Partitioning of an Ionic Contrast agent-microCT, or EPIC-microCT. Then they applied the technique in vitro to monitor the degradation of bovine cartilage cores and to visualize the thin layer of cartilage in an intact rabbit knee.



‘This technique will allow pharmaceutical researchers to obtain more detailed information about the effects of new drugs and other treatment strategies for treating osteoarthritis,’ Levenston said.