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NASA, ASU Team Finds a New Test For Osteoporosis

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the good-to-the-bone dept.

NASA 46

An anonymous reader writes "The BBC has an article about scientists at NASA who believe that they have found a new test that can detect osteoporosis earlier than existing tests. Their test involved having healthy volunteers confined to bed rest for 30 days; 'the technique was able to detect bone loss after as little as one week of bed rest.' Bone loss is an issue for astronauts as well as people affected by osteoporosis. They expect this test will help detect bone loss as a symptom of osteoporosis, but have not yet done a trial to confirm this. This is another point against anyone who claims NASA, and going to space in general, is a complete waste of money."

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46 comments

uhh... (1)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 2 years ago | (#40152251)

ball peen hammer?

Re:uhh... (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 2 years ago | (#40152383)

Conveniently, this is also an extremely efficient test for concussion and bone fractures. Never a false positive. Or a negative.

Going to space might still be a waste of money (4, Insightful)

davidbofinger (703269) | more than 2 years ago | (#40152259)

This is another point against anyone who claims NASA, and going to space in general, is a complete waste of money.

It might prove NASA has some use. But it doesn't sound like going into space was necessary for this research, so that could, in principle, still be a waste.

Re:Going to space might still be a waste of money (2, Insightful)

ongelovigehond (2522526) | more than 2 years ago | (#40152277)

Exactly. If they'd never built the ISS, the dozens of billions of dollars could have gone into directed medical research and found the same thing here on earth.

Re:Going to space might still be a waste of money (4, Informative)

Internetuser1248 (1787630) | more than 2 years ago | (#40152391)

Well they may have found how to make penises harder for even longer, but osteoperosis is a sickness so they may not have discovered this specifically. It also mostly effects old women so not a big priority, it pretty much could only have come from accidental discovery, or from situation where people society actually cares about (like cosmonauts) suffer from it. There are also the hundreds of other scientific and technological advances that have stemmed directly from space program funding, it's not like we are discussing a totally isolated incident here.

Re:Going to space might still be a waste of money (0)

ongelovigehond (2522526) | more than 2 years ago | (#40152779)

There is no doubt that space research has advanced technology. But the question is whether putting money in (manned) space research has better return on investment than other kind of research here on earth. In case of projects like the ISS, I doubt it. Most of the money involved in the ISS involves low-tech housekeeping, and most of the original research is about how to survive in zero gravity, which isn't particularly relevant to anybody who isn't an astronaut. There are a few overlaps, such as osteoporosis, but if we really cared about that, we can put some more funds in research here on earth.

Re:Going to space might still be a waste of money (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153333)

If only you were right, that would be such a glorious future. But alas, we do care what happens to us and our loved ones. As a result, osteoperosis is indeed a well-studied ailment.

Re:Going to space might still be a waste of money (1)

mug funky (910186) | more than 2 years ago | (#40152393)

i honestly can't tell if you're serious or not.

Re:Going to space might still be a waste of money (1)

geekmux (1040042) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153213)

Exactly. If they'd never built the ISS, the dozens of billions of dollars could have gone into directed medical research and found the same thing here on earth.

With the hundreds of billions of waste into creating entire departments like DHS, along with the longest running war in global history (the one against Drugs, not religion or politics), like I'm going to believe for one second that "dozens of billions of dollars" would have actually been applied towards something efficient and effective.

Give DHS another few billion, and we would probably have the Anal Probinator 3000 at the airports.

Re:Going to space might still be a waste of money (2)

Theophany (2519296) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153635)

Give DHS another few billion, and we would probably have the Anal Probinator 3000 at the airports.

Few billion? I have one of those in my bedroom. Set me back $69.95 on QVC.

Re:Going to space might still be a waste of money (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40153777)

NSFW web comic on that topic by SMBC:

http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2366 [smbc-comics.com]

Re:Going to space might still be a waste of money (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40153275)

Going into space is why we have Lithium Ion batteries for one thing. There's a ton of inventions that were created for NASA that have subsequently found use in every day life, the batteries are just one example. Water and air purification technology has been a focus as well.

The fact that this is a common belief amongst so many is why America is going down the crapper. Whatever happened to doing things just because nobody else had done them? Why on earth do we need to always know what the end result will be before we start?

Re:Going to space might still be a waste of money (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40154797)

Because every dollar you spend on Space Travel is a dollar you didn't spend curing poverty, or hunger, or world peace, or funding the Education industry, etc, etc, etc.

Space and defense research is 80% waste (1)

Coop (9778) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153911)

Whew, wish I could find the link. But a study discussed some years ago on Slashdot found that for every $1 billion spent on defense and space R&D, there was a benefit equivalent to $200 million being spent on civilian-oriented research. Like, we might have wanted a microwave oven anyhow, without building a rocket to need one.

So yes, space R&D isn't a complete waste of money. It's an 80% waste of money.

Where do I sign up? (5, Funny)

Zaelath (2588189) | more than 2 years ago | (#40152265)

I'd like to volunteer for a month of bed rest a year.

Re:Where do I sign up? (1)

Lord_of_the_nerf (895604) | more than 2 years ago | (#40152357)

Go to ASU. There's an incredibly short queue next to a sign that says 'Free bone loss! Ask us how!'

Re:Where do I sign up? (2)

srussia (884021) | more than 2 years ago | (#40152467)

I'd like to volunteer for a month of bed rest a year.

Talk about the Right Stuff...

Re:Where do I sign up? (1)

CapOblivious2010 (1731402) | more than 2 years ago | (#40152911)

I'd like to volunteer to spend a month in space - purely for scientific purposes, you understand.

"expect" (0, Troll)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 2 years ago | (#40152307)

So they haven't actually concluded any such thing. Therefore a totally bulldust article. Thanks for wasting our time.

Re:"expect" (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 2 years ago | (#40152535)

The osteoporosis part is of course mainly to attract attention.

The key of the article however is that they found a new way to measure bone loss, and that this technique allows for much earlier detection of bone loss than before. So it's apparently also much more sensitive and/or accurate. And detection of osteoporosis would be an obvious application of this test.

Bone Loss has a reason (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40152417)

Bone Loss is caused by consumption of meat, fish, poultry and diary products. The correlation is too great to ignore.
Countries with high animal product consumption have higher bone loss issues. China and India used to have none of this.

Re:Bone Loss has a reason (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40152459)

Or maybe what they lacked was the ability to diagnose it.

Peer reviewed reference please (1)

fantomas (94850) | more than 2 years ago | (#40152669)

Peer reviewed reference please. Or I'll just claim you're making it up.

Re:Bone Loss has a reason (1)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | more than 2 years ago | (#40152687)

You could say the same thing about soda containing phosphoric acid, or any of a number of other habits of western living. Correlation is not causation.

Re:Bone Loss has a reason (2)

risom (1400035) | more than 2 years ago | (#40152815)

If by bone loss you mean osteoporosis, then there are a few additional factors:
  • - genetics seem to play a role
  • - higher intake of phosphor than calcium
  • - lack of exercise (push ups and the like, stuff that stimulates muscle growth)

If your point of China and India lacking this problem is true, than I would assume the culprit is the lack of exercise as the jobs move from physically demanding things farming etc. to cubicle and assembly line jobs (which of course still is demanding, but in a different sense).

Re:Bone Loss has a reason (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40153829)

If by bone loss you mean osteoporosis, then there are a few additional factors:

[...]

  • - higher intake of phosphor than calcium

[...]

If your point of China and India lacking this problem is true, than I would assume the culprit is the lack of exercise as the jobs move from physically demanding things farming etc. to cubicle and assembly line jobs (which of course still is demanding, but in a different sense).

and one has to wonder what role the increase in Coke consumption (the drink with the high phosphoric acid content, not the other stuff) plays.

Re:Bone Loss has a reason (1)

Fned (43219) | more than 2 years ago | (#40158863)

Bone Loss is caused by consumption of meat, fish, poultry and diary products.

Of course! This is why it primarily affects women!

Damn you, Bridget Jones!!

Bed rest is not without risks (4, Interesting)

Warma (1220342) | more than 2 years ago | (#40152513)

The problem with bedrest (among the obvious ones of removing the subject from useful tasks for a month) is that it causes a large amount of muscle loss and the very bone loss it is trying to detect. What's more, the bone loss from immobilization is rapid and it may take years to recover from. Alternatively, you may never recover from it fully.
I am a researcher working in the field, and there is a moderate amount of data available from immobilization studies like this (both russian and american) Based on what I know, I'd gladly take a DXA scan over bedrest just based on the risks and accounting for effectiveness, all other factors nonwithstanding.

Even if this method is more effective, ultrasound-based screening methods, which have neither the cost or the radiation dose of an X-ray, are becoming available. As osteoporosis is easy to treat if detected early, in all likelihood this problem will be solved this generation.

Re:Bed rest is not without risks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40152849)

Bed rest is how they induced bone loss in order to test the test. The test itself does not require bed rest.

Re:Bed rest is not without risks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40153361)

Bullshit, I've been resting in bed for nearly half of my life and I've never had a problem with that.

Re:Bed rest is not without risks (1)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153607)

The problem with bedrest (among the obvious ones of removing the subject from useful tasks for a month) is that it causes a large amount of muscle loss and the very bone loss it is trying to detect. What's more, the bone loss from immobilization is rapid and it may take years to recover from.

And ironically, this may imply exactly the opposite of the Slashdot summary's pro-space spin. Some background first.

Once the cold war and the space race were over, NASA and its contractors went through all kinds of contortions to try to justify continuing the pork-barrel funding of human spaceflight. There have been all kinds of benefits proposed, from inspiring schoolchildren to guaranteeing jobs in aerospace, but none of them have been very convincing as a justification for the amount of money being spent, which, while small in proportion to the federal budget, is nevertheless a boatload of money every year.

One of the arguments was that the shuttle, and later the ISS, were going to be platforms for scientific research in microgravity. This sort of does make sense, because you can't do that type of science anywhere else than in earth orbit, and there may be certain kinds of work that require human scientists to be present. We were supposed to get manufacturing techniques that could only exist in microgravity, e.g., growing perfect crystals -- oops, never worked out. We were also supposed to learn all about the biological effects of microgravity.

Basically the microgravity research idea didn't work out. Astronauts aboard the ISS are extremely busy all the time, basically because it's a hell of a lot of work just staying alive up there. Simple tasks like cleaning take up a huge amount of their time. They just don't have enough time to do a significant amount of science. Not only is the amount of good science very small, but the bang for the buck is lousy, and has been made even lousier by the crazy cost overruns on the ISS as well as the failure of the space shuttle to be as cheap as it was supposed to be.

And the main result of research into the biological effects of microgravity is that these effects are extremely negative. Osteoporosis is just one of the many extremely debilitating effects experienced by astronauts aboard the ISS. When they get back to earth, they're completely wrecked physically and have to go through a long period of physical conditioning to get back to anything like reasonable shape. Many of the effects are exactly analogous to the effects of bed rest.

So what we're really learning here is that humans are fundamentally not well adapted to microgravity. If humans are ever going to live permanently in space, it's probably going to have to be aboard rotating space stations that provide the equivalent of a gravitational field. (We don't know for sure, but most likely a gravitational field like the moon's is not enough for human health.) Oops, but if the point of the space shuttle and ISS was supposed to be that we could do stuff in microgravity ... what would be the point of a rotating space station, which wouldn't provide a microgravity environment? Well, none, really.

Re:Bed rest is not without risks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40155749)

Well, if you have a space station with a rotating habitat and a non-rotating lab, you can change from the rotating part to the non-rotating part in mere minutes and can return to the rotating habitat immediately after finishing your work in that lab.

And of course your assumption that the moon's gravitational field isn't sufficient for human health is, at this time, pure speculation. It may be true, or it may be false, we just don't know yet. There is no way that it is "most likely" not enough. We just don't have sufficient data to make even statements of likelihood.

Re:Bed rest is not without risks (1)

Raenex (947668) | more than 2 years ago | (#40157147)

You've been mislead by the summary. As my anonymous sibling said, "Bed rest is how they induced bone loss in order to test the test. The test itself does not require bed rest."

The test is just analyzing urine. From the article: "With the new technique, bone loss is detected by carefully analyzing the isotopes of the chemical element calcium that are naturally present in urine. Isotopes are atoms of an element that differ in their masses. Patients do not need to ingest any artificial tracers and are not exposed to any radiation, so there is virtually no risk, the authors noted."

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This is the kind of story that belongs on /. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40152855)

Help restore /. to its former nerd news glory, tag stories like this with realslash to tell the editors that we want our favorite site back.

Those of you who prefer slashvertisements and blog posts passed off as news, get your comfy chair and beverage of choice, and wait for the fireworks. Inertia will accomplish more than you ever could!

Thank you for picking the CowboyNeal option!

It may be an act of God if you get osteoporosis (1)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153165)

It may be an act of God if you get osteoporosis.

If you don't have the faith, God will punish you. Osteoporosis and snake bites, it's all the same.

Here is living example [washingtonpost.com] :
 

Serpent-handling pastor profiled earlier in Washington Post dies from rattlesnake bite

Mack Wolford, a flamboyant Pentecostal pastor from West Virginia whose serpent-handling talents were profiled last November in The Washington Post Magazine , hoped the outdoor service he had planned for Sunday at an isolated state park would be a “homecoming like the old days,” full of folks speaking in tongues, handling snakes and having a “great time.”

He and other adherents cited Mark 16:17-18 as the reason for their practice: “And these signs will follow those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

“Praise the Lord and pass the rattlesnakes, brother” he wrote on May 23

Darwin Award!

So, those who don't test for osteoporosis, will they also get Darwin Award nominations?

Not in my trailer park.

totally bogus argument (4, Insightful)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153183)

This is another point against anyone who claims NASA, and going to space in general, is a complete waste of money.

This has always been a totally bogus argument, because you can't do a controlled experiment. Suppose that the US had never engaged in the Cold War propaganda exercise known as the space race. Later, suppose that the US had never gotten into pork-barrel projects such as the space shuttle and the ISS. What would the world have been like? We have no way of figuring out what scientific advances would have been made in this alternate history.

Maybe more tax money would have been directed toward unmanned space exploration, which, unlike human spaceflight, provides scientific results in reasonable proportion to what it costs.

Maybe the nonexistence of a government monopoly on human spaceflight would have encouraged the private sector to start up a space tourism industry decades ago, and my wife and I would have celebrated out 20th anniversary last year in orbit.

Maybe, simply by reducing the size of government, we would have boosted the over-all economy a little bit, and through exponential growth (the "butterfly effect") that small change would have made the economy significantly bigger today, say by 10%. In a 10% bigger economy, a fixed percentage of taxes spent on cancer research means 10% more cancer research, so maybe we'd have a cure for cancer now.

Maybe one smart person, rather than becoming an engineer on the Apollo program, would instead have gone into fundamental research in physics, and we'd have a theory of quantum gravity today.

We just have no way of knowing. You could just as easily say that World War II was a good thing, because without it we would never have invented radar.

Re:totally bogus argument (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153795)

No mod points, so just an "I agree". If the point of spending tens of billions per year is the side-effect technology, then it IS a waste of money. One could have done a trial like this not related to the space program for not a lot of money. The point of space flight is exploration and the eventual colonization of space, not Tang.

(and on a side note, it's been at least a year since I've had mod points)

Re:totally bogus argument (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#40156235)

and on a side note, it's been at least a year since I've had mod points

Like me, you post too much. Lurk for a week or two and you'll have fifteen every day.

Re:totally bogus argument (1)

Marc Madness (2205586) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153799)

This is another point against anyone who claims NASA, and going to space in general, is a complete waste of money.

This has always been a totally bogus argument, because you can't do a controlled experiment. Suppose that the US had never engaged in the Cold War propaganda exercise known as the space race. Later, suppose that the US had never gotten into pork-barrel projects such as the space shuttle and the ISS. What would the world have been like? We have no way of figuring out what scientific advances would have been made in this alternate history.

Although your point is true, the argument is that NASA and going to space in general is not a complete waste of money. No one is claiming that investing the money otherwise could not have yielded better results; in which case a controlled experiment would be required.

Re:totally bogus argument (1)

JoeRobe (207552) | more than 2 years ago | (#40153807)

I agree with your logic, but I think the poster's argument was that NASA is still contributing to society outside of putting people into space. There's a vocal group of people out there that think the only things we got out of NASA were Tang and Velcro (neither of which came from NASA, incidentally), and that its current form is an utter waste of money. The poster is pointing out that NASA still is doing research relevant to society, not that society is necessarily better off than if NASA had never existed.

THEY'VE not yet done a trial (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40153765)

SO THIS IS is a complete waste of EVERYBODY'S TIME AND money

yo (1)

buddyglass (925859) | more than 2 years ago | (#40154115)

This is another point against anyone who claims NASA, and going to space in general, is a complete waste of money.

Nobody is arguing it's a "complete waste of money"; they merely suggest it may not represent the best "bang for our buck". Perhaps not even the best bang for our "scientific research buck". Its budget could be used instead to massively increase the number of research grants given to researchers at U.S. universities. It could be used to establish a bunch of "X Prize" type bounties for various scientific and/or engineering problems. It could be used to establish a sort of "National Research Academy" akin to NASA but without the specific focus on space exploration. Etc.

guys get this too, but later than women (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 2 years ago | (#40155177)

Manymen in their 80s are starting to fell the debilitation of bone loss.

Illogic (1)

J'raxis (248192) | more than 2 years ago | (#40159673)

This is another point against anyone who claims NASA, and going to space in general, is a complete waste of money.

Completely illogical. That NASA may occasionally produce useful results doesn't justify what it costs to keep NASA running. Someone else may have been able to produce these same results for much lower cost.

A broken clock is right twice a day. The rest of the day, it sits around wasting space. That it's right twice a day doesn't imply that it's worth keeping.

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