Versus Arthritis Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis
University of Nottingham

New smart patch study 'could aid early detection of osteoarthritis'

Published by Arthritis Research UK | 24 January 2017

Detecting the early signs of osteoarthritis could become easier with the development of a new smart patch by UK researchers.

A team from Cardiff University has commenced a study that aims to develop a cheap and easy method of identifying the telltale signs of the disease before it fully develops, potentially revolutionising the future treatment of the damaging condition.

How the smart patch will work

The research will focus on the use of acoustic emission technology to detect the small cracking sounds that joints make as the process of osteoarthritis-related degradation commences.

Many patients with the disease notice audible grating or clicking noises from their joints and bones during regular movement, due to friction between the bone and cartilage. This is usually only noticeable once the condition has progressed past the point where anything can be done about it, but it is known that joints make similar sounds earlier on in the process - albeit at higher frequencies that are not audible to the human ear.

As such, the new patch will use acoustic emission sensors - which are usually used to detect shockwaves created by damage in aircraft wings and other structures - to pick up these sounds, allowing the disease to be caught at an earlier stage than is currently possible.

A range of potential advantages

The advantages of such a system would be numerous, as the thin patches would be convenient to wear and cheap enough to make that they would be entirely disposable - an attractive alternative to costly X-ray and MRI scans.

They could be used to help GPs assess joint health, or even linked up to mobile apps for self-monitoring purposes, allowing early intervention for osteoarthritis when the degenerative inflammatory process has not yet fully developed.

Dr Davide Crivelli of Cardiff University's school of engineering said: "The idea has got huge potential to change the way we diagnose osteoarthritis. If we're able to link the sound signature of a healthy knee and a knee with disease, we will be able to lower the costs on society a lot."

Arthritis Research UK's view

Dr Natalie Carter, head of research liaison and evaluation, said: "Around 4.71 million people in the UK live with knee osteoarthritis. It can affect a person's ability to carry out everyday tasks such as walking, dressing and climbing stairs.

"Early diagnosis for the condition is very important, so we will be looking at the results to see how it could improve the lives of people with osteoarthritis. With early intervention, people can begin self-management, such as exercise before irreversible damage to the joint has occurred, and hopefully delay the need for surgery.

"However, it is important to note that diagnosis is only one element of someone's journey. For example, people living with arthritis often need better ways of manage the pain it causes. There is an urgent need to fund more research into new treatments, such as those that would help people manage pain better, and push back the limits of arthritis that affect people's everyday life."

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Posted on Thursday 2nd February 2017