New tool for CSI? Geographic software maps distinctive features inside bones

September 25, 2012 by Pam Frost Gorder
New tool for CSI? Geographic software maps distinctive features inside bones
This polarized microscope image shows a cross-section of a metatarsal, or long foot bone. White spots on the periphery of the bone are osteons -- structures that fix small cracks in bone and maintain mineral levels in our blood. Image by David Rose.

(Medical Xpress)—A common type of geographic mapping software offers a new way to study human remains.

In a recent issue of the , researchers describe how they used commercially available mapping to identify features inside a human foot – a new way to study human skeletal variation.

David Rose, a Captain in the Ohio State University Police Division and doctoral student in anthropology, began the project to determine whether the patterns of change inside the bones of human remains could reveal how the bones were used during life.

"Our bones adapt to the load that's placed on them. Patterns of tension and compression show up in our internal , and this software lets us look at those patterns in a new way," Rose said.

Julie Field, study co-author and assistant professor of anthropology at Ohio State, explained that frequently use geographic information system (GIS) software to map the location of objects uncovered at an excavation site.

"We try to identify important clusters of objects such as household tools or agricultural tools that would indicate patterns of human activity," Field explained. "Based on certain scientific criteria that you give it, the software gives you a statistical measure of whether the objects you're looking at actually constitute a cluster."

In this case, the researchers used a program called ArcGIS. But similar types of mapping software can analyze any kind of spatial data, such as or flood models, Rose added. He usesthe same program to map line-of-site views to develop security plans for events on campus.

This is the first time anyone has used GIS software to map bone microstructure.

Co-author Sam Stout, professor of anthropology at Ohio State and Rose's advisor, explained why the study of internal bone structure is important.

"Dave's work allows us to visualize, analyze, and compare the distribution of microscopic features that reflect the development and maintenance of bones, which we can relate to skeletal health and disease – for example, bone fragility in osteoporosis," Stout said.

Advances that relate to the study of foot bones in particular would be useful in forensics, Rose explained, because of one grisly fact: when unidentified are discovered today, the foot bones are sometimes intact, having been protected by the deceased person's shoes. Any information about the person, such as age, sex, or body size could ultimately aid law enforcement in identifying a body.

For this study, the researchers studied the cross-section of a metatarsal – a long bone in the foot – from a deceased woman who generously gave her body to the Division of Anatomy's Body Donation Program. Using this bone cross-section, they demonstrated how the software could be used to show the loads experienced in the foot during gait.

Rose recorded an extremely high-resolution image of the bone cross-section under a microscope, and used the software to map the location of key structures called osteons.

Osteons are microscopic structures created throughout life to fix small cracks or to maintain mineral levels in our blood. The size and shape of osteons, along with the direction of the collagen fibers from which they are made inside bone, are influenced by the loads we place on our bones during life.

In this case, the donor's metatarsal bone showed the predicted pattern of normal bone remodeling, with concentrations of particular types of osteons along the top and bottom of the bone which could have been formed by forces experienced as she walked – just where researchers would expect to see telltale signs of foot flexure and compression.

This study provides a proof of concept, Rose cautioned, and many more bones would have to be studied before GIS software could provide meaningful insight into bone biology.

"Really, we're just combining very basic principles in GIS and skeletal biology," he said. "But I believe that there is a tremendous opportunity for advancements at the intersection of both disciplines. The real advantage to this method is that it offers a new scale for the study of human variation offering to shed light on how we adapt to our surroundings."

Co-author Amanda Agnew, assistant professor of anatomy, agreed and added that the work "combines bone biology, biomechanics, and biomedical informatics to explore new methods to evaluate old questions."

Explore further: Solving the mystery of how cigarette smoking weakens bones

Related Stories

Solving the mystery of how cigarette smoking weakens bones

July 26, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Almost 20 years after scientists first identified cigarette smoking as a risk factor for osteoporosis and bone fractures, a new study is shedding light on exactly how cigarette smoke weakens bones. The ...

Pioneering research will assess the effects of obesity on bone development

February 3, 2012
Researchers from the University of Sheffield are conducting ground-breaking research to determine how body weight and hormones affect bone health from childhood to adulthood.

Recommended for you

Want to win at sports? Take a cue from these mighty mice

July 20, 2017
As student athletes hit training fields this summer to gain the competitive edge, a new study shows how the experiences of a tiny mouse can put them on the path to winning.

'Smart' robot technology could give stroke rehab a boost

July 19, 2017
Scientists say they have developed a "smart" robotic harness that might make it easier for people to learn to walk again after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

Engineered liver tissue expands after transplant

July 19, 2017
Many diseases, including cirrhosis and hepatitis, can lead to liver failure. More than 17,000 Americans suffering from these diseases are now waiting for liver transplants, but significantly fewer livers are available.

Lunatic Fringe gene plays key role in the renewable brain

July 19, 2017
The discovery that the brain can generate new cells - about 700 new neurons each day - has triggered investigations to uncover how this process is regulated. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Jan and Dan Duncan ...

New animal models for hepatitis C could pave the way for a vaccine

July 19, 2017
They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the case of hepatitis C—a disease that affects nearly 71 million people worldwide, causing cirrhosis and liver cancer if left untreated—it might be worth ...

Omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation via cannabinoids

July 18, 2017
Chemical compounds called cannabinoids are found in marijuana and also are produced naturally in the body from omega-3 fatty acids. A well-known cannabinoid in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol, is responsible for some of its ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.