How ageing impacts bones

Washington: A new study, led by an Indian American, has paved the way for atomic-level explorations on how disease and ageing affect the bone.

"If people think of bone at all -- and they usually don`t, until they have a fracture -- they think of it as an inert material," said Ayyalusamy Ramamoorthy, professor of chemistry and biophysics at the University of Michigan (U-M).

"But like everything else, bone is also made up of molecules whose behaviour is reflected in its structure, toughness and mechanical strength, making bone really exciting in terms of its chemistry and its contribution to health and well-being."

"However, solid-state NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) spectroscopy is an ideal tool for exploring what goes on inside bone at nanoscopic resolution," said Ramamoorthy, who did his Ph.D in chemistry from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, India.

"It is possible to probe the structure and dynamics of individual molecules that constitute bone without any physical damage or chemical modification."

But while solid-state NMR spectroscopy is capable of revealing complete nanoscopic details of molecular events from most samples, it often provides a surfeit of details that they`re difficult to tease apart and analyse.

Ramamoorthy challenged his lab group to find ways of "driving around" to explore the interior of bone, just as characters on the series might in their imaginary world. The researchers` real-world approach involved a different kind of magic.

Ramamoorthy and colleagues used a variation of solid-state NMR spectroscopy called magic-angle spinning, a non-invasive technique that makes solid material as amenable to analysis as solutions are, said a U-M release.

With this technique, the researchers examined changes that occur in bone with water loss. The water content of bone tissue decreases with age, which--by affecting both collagen and minerals--reduces bone strength and toughness.

These findings appeared in the Wednesday edition of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.