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Equine July/August 2008 (Vol 3, No 6)

News Bits — New Technology Could Help Prevent Fractures in Horses

    Researchers are developing a monitoring system similar to those used by earthquake seismologists to detect tiny cracks in bones, and this technology could help prevent fractures in racehorses and humans. The new monitoring system records "acoustic emission data"—sound waves created by tiny bone fissures. The same kinds of acoustic emissions are used to monitor the integrity of bridges and other structures as well as mechanical parts such as helicopter turbine blades, according to Dr. Ozan Akkus, an associate professor at Purdue University's Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering.

    "When a microcrack occurs in a bone, it generates sound waves similar to those created by earthquakes," says Akkus. "The goal is to create a wearable device that would alert the person when a stress fracture was imminent so that they could stop rigorous physical activity long enough for the bone to heal."

    Researchers at Purdue have designed wearable acoustic emission sensors, which could be used to monitor the formation of microcracks in bones, which are not detectable using conventional imaging technologies and can lead to hairline stress fractures. The technology might help prevent serious fractures in racehorses that can cause lameness and lead to more serious catastrophic bone failure.

    Catastrophic injuries are rare in racehorses but are still a major concern to horse owners and racing fans. This problem was highlighted by the recent tragedy involving this year's Kentucky Derby second-place finisher Eight Belles.

    "The need for new technologies to prevent stress fractures and the many other causes of catastrophic injury to racehorses is great," says Dr. Stephen Adams, a veterinarian and professor at the Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine. "About 70% of young Thoroughbreds develop microcracks in their cannon bones, known as bucked shins. About 10% of horses with bucked shins will have radiographic evidence of stress fractures. One of our goals is to prevent stress fractures and curtail catastrophic fractures."

    Estimated losses attributed to bone fractures in Thoroughbred or Standardbred horses used in the horse-racing industry exceed $10 million annually. (Writers: Cynthia Sequin and Emil Venere, Purdue News Service: phone 765-494-2096; email purduenews@purdue.edu)

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