Dr. Avnish Jolly, 3rd July, 2008:Osteoporosis is the most widespread bone disease worldwide, affecting 75 million people in the US, Europe and Japan alone, and causing health costs second only to those associated with cardiovascular diseases. It affects one in three women and one in five men over the age of 50. This disease is characterised by loss of bone density, resulting in a high risk of fractures, and is a major cause of pain, disability and death in older persons.
Scientists of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH) and IBM has conducted an extensive simulation yet of real human bone structures to improve the diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis. The simulation was done using the a Blue Gene supercomputer in IBM’s Zurich Research Laboratory has provided doctors a â€˜high definition’ view of the strength and fragility of bones they never had before. The work Extreme Scalability Challenges in Analyses of Human Bone Structures by ETH scientists and IBM Zurich Research Lab scientists was presented at the IACM/ECCOMAS 2008 conference in Venice, Italy, on July 2.
Besides helping in early detection, this breakthrough simulation could greatly enhance a clinician’s ability to better treat fractures and analyse and detect osteoporotic fragility, in order to take preventative measures before osteoporosis advances in patients.
Presently, osteoporosis is diagnosed by measuring bone mass and density using specialised X-ray or computer tomography techniques “a highly empirical process.
Scientists of the Departments of Mechanical and Process Engineering and Computer Science at ETH Zurich teamed up with supercomputing experts of IBM’s Zurich Research Laboratory for an accurate, powerful and fast method to automate the analysis of bone strength. The breakthrough method they developed combines density measurements with a large-scale mechanical analysis of the inner-bone microstructure.
Using large-scale, massively parallel simulations, the researchers were able to obtain a dynamic “heat map” of strain, which changes with the load applied to the bone. This map shows the clinician exactly where and under what load a bone is likely to fracture and also utilising the massively large-scale capabilities of the 8-rack Blue Gene /L supercomputer, the research team was able to conduct the first simulations on a five by five mm specimen of real bone. In just 20 minutes of computing time, the supercomputer simulation generated 90 Gigabytes of output data.
Professor Peter Arbenz, Institute of Computational Science, who initiated the collaboration among the involved groups, explains that state of the art numerical algorithms were also necessary to solve these extremely large problems in this surprisingly short time. This work is the first fundamental step towards a clinical use of large scale bone simulations and he stated that we are at the beginning of an exciting journey and we need to further continue this line of research in order to achieve this goal.
In future work, IBM and ETH scientists plan to aim to advance their simulation techniques to go beyond the calculation of static bone strength and to be able to simulate the actual formation of the fractures for individual patients, thereby taking another step towards achieving a fast, reliable and early detection of people with high fracture risk.