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Friday, 10 December, 1999, 12:43 GMT
Arthritis scanner puts drugs in spotlight

The computer image shows the exact amount of cartilage

Important information about the effectiveness of arthritis drugs will be revealed by a hi-tech scanner developed by doctors.

Osteoarthritis is caused by the gradual degeneration of cartilage - the material which cushions the joints.

Professor Hill Gaston helped develop the system
When it breaks down, bone can rub on bone, causing painful disability.

Existing x-rays and scans can be confusing to interpret, and may not highlight subtle changes in the amount of cartilage.

A combination of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning and computer technology allows the Cambridge doctors to view a far more detailed 3D image of the cartilage.

The computer can then measure the exact quantities of different tissue types.

Professor Laurie Hill, of Cambridge University, said: "The rate of change is very slow and just looking at one image and another a year later, it's very hard to see the change, whereas to measure it in a computer we can measure volumes in millilitres and size in millimetres."

Trials of drugs using the new scanning technology are expected to start next year.

Arthritis is a painful joint disease
Professor Hill Gaston, from Addenbrookes Hospital and Cambridge University, said: "Technology will tell us quicker and more accurately which of the drugs available to us are actually doing the job.

"Measurements which are actually made on the patients are incredible in that type of assessment."

It is estimated that approximately one million people in the UK suffer from osteoarthritis.

There are few effective treatments for the condition, although some sufferers are advised to take as much exercise as possible to keep muscles active.

Some arthritis sufferers try TENS treatment, which uses mild electrical stimulation to ease pain.

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See also:
01 Dec 99 |  Health
Ballet move 'causes arthritis'
30 Nov 99 |  Health
Bone and joint diseases threaten financial crisis
07 Jun 99 |  Health
Arthritis: A new north-south divide

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