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25 September 2017, 05:30
Tortured turkey tendons could help scientists develop new treatments for failing bones.
In a series of experiments, researchers squeezed the mineralised tissue to breaking point and bombarded it with powerful X-rays.
The results allowed them to see for the first time how bones react to compression at the molecular level.
Dr Uwe Wolfram, leader of the team from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, said: "Osteoporosis and osteoarthritis affect millions of people around the world.
"As life expectancy continues to rise, it is critical that we have better solutions to manage patients' conditions and minimise the loss of quality of life, for example by providing personalised treatment solutions.
"We use mineralised turkey tendons because they show similar composition to human bone with respect to the mineralised collagen fibril (small fibre), but feature a much simpler arrangement of these fibrils.
"This makes it an attractive model system to study the mechanical behaviour by means of strength tests at these small-length scales.
"Before this experiment, we understood how bone behaved at the organ level, but the mechanical properties of bones' fundamental building blocks, the mineralised collagen fibres, were something of a mystery.
"We have now captured exactly how these fibres respond to stress. This could lead to far more effective prediction of bone fracture risk and even the development of patient-specific implants to mitigate that risk."
In the tests, diffracting X-rays were used to provide information about the mechanical behaviour of the stressed material.
PhD student Alexander Groetsch, another member of the Heriot-Watt team, said: "We now have an idea of how the tissue reacts to external loading at the level of an individual fibre.
"This allows us to better understand scale effects of bone's material properties which eventually may help to optimise the prediction of bone fracture risk."
The findings were presented at the 23rd Congress of the European Society of Biomechanics in Seville, Spain.