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Arthritis research powered by a more powerful MRI

Photo: Liz West via Flickr

MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, is an area of immense potential for understanding disease. At the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, researchers are using the tool to find new ways to “see” the nation’s leading cause of disability, arthritis, in its earliest stages.

Their hope is to help alleviate arthritis by having treatments that can delay or reverse some of the early degenerative changes in the joint cartilage.

“When we age, our joints don’t perform as well as when we were younger and they become more at risk for damage from repetitive work, athletic activities or a single traumatic injury,” said University of Minnesota Physician sports medicine expert Elizabeth Arendt, M.D., a professor in the U of M Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.  “Arthritis is a very significant health concern for our society, involving costs to treat the disease as well as time away from work.”

Arendt and University of Minnesota Physicians radiologist Jutta Ellerman, M.D., with collaborators Mikko Nissi and Michael Benson at the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR) are studying how to best use more powerful MRI magnets and higher resolution images to see some of the very first signs of breakdown in cartilage.

Because cartilage breakdown often occurs in the very small area between two bone structures, it can be difficult to see the wear and tear that has occurred until the problem is severe.

A clearer view of that small area, Arendt said, means a chance at halting arthritis’s irreversible damage to cartilage before it becomes an even larger problem.

Tomorrow, check back to Health Talk for a look at how MRI records images that are giving University of Minnesota physicians an unprecedented look inside the human body.

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