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Researchers Develop Technology That May Identify Tiny Strains In Body Tissues Before Injuries Occur

Update Date: Aug 27, 2014 09:33 AM EDT

Researchers have developed algorithms to identify weak spots in tendons, muscles, and bones prone to tearing or breaking. 

Although the technique needs to be refined before it is used in patients, one day it might help pinpoint minor strains and injuries in body's tissues long before bigger problems occur. 

"Tendons are constantly stretching as muscles pull on them, and bones also bend or compress as we carry out everyday activities," said senior investigator Stavros Thomopoulos, PhD, professor of orthopaedic surgery, in the press release. "Small cracks or tears can result from these loads and lead to major injuries. Understanding how these tears and cracks develop over time therefore is important for diagnosing and tracking injuries."

Researchers developed a way to visualize and even predict spots where tissues are weakened. 

"If you imagine stretching Silly Putty or a swimming cap with a picture on it, as you pull, the picture becomes distorted," paper's first author, John J. Boyle, a graduate student in biomedical engineering, said. "This allows us to track how the material responds to an external force."

In one of the experiments described in the study, researchers sprayed a pattern of dots on plastic wrap, stretched it and tracked the dots. 

"As you pull and stretch the plastic wrap, eventually tears begin to emerge," Boyle explained. "The new algorithm allowed us to find the places where the tears were beginning to form and to track them as they extended. Older algorithms are not as good at finding and tracking localized strains as the material stretches."

The research is published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

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