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An algorithm to monitor the joints of patients with arthritis, which could change the way that the severity of the condition is assessed, has been developed by a team of engineers, physicians, and radiologists.

An algorithm to monitor the joints of patients with arthritis. (Credit: University of Cambridge)

The technique, which detects tiny changes in arthritic joints, could enable greater understanding of how osteoarthritis develops and allow the effectiveness of new treatments to be assessed more accurately, without the need for invasive tissue sampling. The results are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The semi-automated technique, called joint space mapping (JSM), analyzes the CT images to identify changes in the space between the bones of the joint in question, a recognized surrogate marker for osteoarthritis. After developing the algorithm with tests on human hip joints from bodies that had been donated for medical research, the researchers found that it exceeded the current gold standard of joint imaging with x-rays in terms of sensitivity, showing that it was at least twice as good at detecting small structural changes. Color-coded images produced using the JSM algorithm illustrate the parts of the joint where the space between bones is wider or narrower.

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