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New System Monitors Tiny 'Earthquakes' in Bones to Prevent Fractures

erience stress fractures in the femur, commonly referred to as shin splints, depending on the service branch and type of training, with the highest incidence in women recruits. In horse racing, 70 percent of young thoroughbreds experience fractures, Akkus said.

The researchers are developing the monitoring technique by studying crack formation in pieces of bone from human cadavers that are placed in a machine that continually bends the bone until it cracks.

Akkus is working with researchers at the University of Toledo to develop a wearable prototype that will record crack-formation data, which could be downloaded to a portable digital assistant, or PDA, for review by medical professionals. Such a device could immediately alert the person by sounding an alarm, and the data could then be scrutinized by a doctor.

"All of the technology is available, and the sensors exist off the shelf," he said. "We just have to modify them to work with our system."

Sensors made of a "piezoceramic" material generate electricity when compressed by a force, such as the vibration created by seismic waves resulting from crack formation.

"Recently, flexible polymer-based sensors have appeared on the market, and these could be incorporated into athletic apparel, such as running shoes and exercise tights to monitor areas most susceptible to fractures," Akkus said. "Ultimately, we would like to do real-time monitoring of damage activity and learn how to distinguish between a small crack and a more structurally threatening defect.

"There are different types of cracks that occur, and it's important to be able to distinguish among them so that we can determine how serious the damage is."

To distinguish the difference between the various types of cracks, researchers are integrating "pattern recognition" software and earthquake models, working with Robert Nowak, a Purdue professor of earth and atmospheric sciences.
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