Dr. David Cooper
Canada Research Chair in Synchrotron Bone Imaging
The Big Question
"It’s been known for some time that osteoporosis rates and the cost of osteoporosis are going to go up because of the aging population,” says University of Saskatchewan researcher David Cooper.
As many as two million Canadians are suffering bone deterioration and fractures caused by osteoporosis. In the most affected group—women 50 years or older—more than one in four has osteoporosis.
Often called the “silent thief” due to its lack of symptoms, osteoporosis is expected to become an even greater challenge as baby boomers age.
Cooper started developing an unusual perspective on bone development by studying paleobiology at the U of S and becoming interested in forensics. In graduate school, he combined medical science imaging technology with archaeology to conduct forensics research on the aging of bones, which led to an interesting conclusion.
"Whether you're going to look at how bones are going to age from a medical or archaeological perspective, they are two sides of the same coin. If you figure out how the process works, it's applicable in both fields."
This realization has led Cooper to help take the study of osteoporosis in a different direction. Most research has focused on how the disease decreases bone density, but he is combining micro-CT scanning technology with synchrotron X-ray technology at the Canadian Light Source to study the microscopic architecture of bones.
“The synchrotron allows us to look at how bone structure is changing at that level without having to destroy it," Cooper says. "We can look at everything in 3-D and try to understand the internal processes that keep bones healthy or lead to conditions like osteoporosis.”
This combination of technologies results in high resolution, 3-D images of bone structures that allow medical researchers to learn more about how bone remodelling is related to osteoporosis and bone aging. Remodelling is a bone replacement process that everyone goes through in which old bone is removed from the skeleton and new bone is added.
Cooper is centering his research on osteons—the cylindrical structures that make up compact bone. Osteons play a central role in both bone remodelling and disease.
Through the efforts of Cooper and his team of post-graduate students, medical researchers will have, for the first time in Canada, the capability to view important bone microstructures in three dimensions. As a result, scientists will gain insights into bone structure and disease not possible with conventional imaging technologies.