Edmonton study shows vibration technology an alternative to MRI
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Edmonton study shows vibration technology an alternative to MRI

A new study out of the University of Alberta shows vibration technology could help doctors find out what’s shaking with back pain sufferers.

Teaming up with the University of South Denmark, Greg Kawchuk, professor of physical therapy in the faculty of rehabilitative medicine, studied the lumbar spines of identical twins.

They discovered structural changes in the spine significantly affect the way the spine responds to vibration.

“We used gentle vibrations to find out where problems exist in the back,” Kawchuk said. “By studying and testing vibration responses in identical twins, we were able to demonstrate that structural changes within the spine alter its vibration response.”

The study relied on Denmark’s identical twin registry — the largest and most comprehensive of its kind  — and researchers found that while twins who had similar spines had similar responses to vibration, in twins where one had sustained a back injury the vibration response between the two was significantly different.

Researchers believe that this research could help doctors diagnose back problems that may not be visible using magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, scans, and may uncover new diagnoses for those plagued with back pain.

“While an MRI shows us a picture of the spine, it doesn’t show how the spine is working. It’s like taking a picture of a car to see if the car is capable of starting. Vibration diagnostics shows us more than how the spine looks, it shows us how the spine is functioning,” Kawchuk said.

Brienne McKenzie (left), PhD student, and Manmeet Mamik, post-doctoral student, work in the Brain Power Lab at the University of Alberta in Edmonton on Thursday, March 10, 2016. Ian Kucerak

They also believe it could help prevent wasteful, unnecessary MRI scans.

“One of the biggest problems in back pain today is over-utilization of MRI scans in patients that do not need them. This is a waste of health-care resources that leads to over-treatment and even increased disability,” said Jan Hartvigsen, professor of clinical biomechanics and musculoskeletal research with the University of Southern Denmark.

“By using a simple, safe and inexpensive technology like this, we can potentially decrease the use of these scans significantly,” Hartvigsen added.

VibeDx Diagnostic Corp, a TEC Edmonton spinoff company, has already licensed Kawchuk’s technology.

TEC Edmonton, a non-profit, is joint venture between the University of Alberta and the Edmonton Economic Development Corp.

“Back problems are a significant cause of disability worldwide. For 90 per cent of these patients, current diagnostic methods are not available to identify their problems,” said Cameron Schuler, president and CEO of VibeDx.

“Our hope is that VibeDx will help improve our ability to identify the cause of a patient’s back problem, which will then assist clinicians in matching a patient to the best course of treatment.”

The research was published online Friday in Nature: Scientific Reports.

@ClaireTheobald

ctheobald@postmedia.com

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