The new monitoring system records "acoustic emission data," or sound waves created by the tiny bone fissures. The same sorts of acoustic emissions are used to monitor the integrity of bridges and other structures, said Ozan Akkus, an associate professor in Purdue University's Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering.
"When a microcrack occurs in a bone it generates sound waves similar to those created by earthquakes," Akkus said. "The goal is to create a wearable device that would alert the person when a stress fracture was imminent so that they could stop rigorous physical activity long enough for the bone to heal."
Catastrophic injuries are rare in racehorses but still remain a major concern to horse owners and racing fans. This problem was highlighted by the recent tragedy involving this year's Kentucky Derby second-place finisher Eight Belles. The 3-year-old filly broke both ankles as she was slowing down at the end of the race and had to be euthanized. Big Brown won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and is favored to win the Belmont Stakes on Saturday (June 7).
"The need for new technologies to prevent stress fractures and the many other causes of catastrophic injury to racehorses is great," said Stephen Adams, a veterinarian and professor in the Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine, who specializes in equine lameness and surgery. "These horses are running 40 miles an hour, and if there is a microfracture in the animal there is danger it will become a catastrophic failure."
Shane Fimbel, technology transfer manager for the Purdue Research Foundation's Office of Technology Commercialization, is helping to move the technology to the market.
"This technology is important in many ways, but in particular with horses and other animals because they cannot articulate why they are in pain," Fimbel said.
Such a technology also might protect soldiers, athletes and dancers. Akkus will be visiting West Point this summer to test the monitoring system on cadets going through basic training.
Bones most affected in horses are the cannon bones of the front legs. The most commonly affected bones in humans are those in the feet, legs and hips.
Researchers at Purdue and the University of Toledo have jointly filed patents on the discovery through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization.