Penn Center for Musculoskeletal Disorders

MicroCT Imaging Core

Director: X. Sherry Liu, Ph.D.

X-ray computed tomography (CT) imaging has a long-held reputation for successfully addressing problems in musculoskeletal injury and repair. In particular, the development of high-resolution micro-CT (µCT) during the past two decades has revolutionized the quantitative assessment of calcified and X-ray dense tissue morphology. With the capability of non-destructive, three-dimensional (3D) visualization of tissue structure, µCT has largely supplanted traditional histomorphometry and become a gold standard for calcified tissue density and microstructure evaluation for many measures.

Due to the low intrinsic X-ray contrast of non-mineralized tissues, traditional applications of µCT in musculoskeletal research have been limited to mineralized tissue. However, the development of contrast-enhanced imaging methods has greatly broadened applications of µCT to include musculoskeletal soft tissues as well. These cutting-edge image-based quantification methods not only enable characterization of soft-tissue morphology, but some also yield insight into tissue composition, such as glycosaminoglycan (GAG) density, which is associated with soft-tissue function and mechanics. Another important advance in the past decade is in vivo µCT imaging of living small animals. Research of musculoskeletal tissue injury and repair has been progressively utilizing animal models of human disease. Unlike many assays that require sacrificing the animal to extract tissues for analysis, in vivo µCT enables longitudinal evaluation of changes in a particular animal non-invasively over time. This new imaging strategy minimizes the number of animals required while enhancing statistical power.

With these developments, µCT can now provide a deep and quantitative understanding of the genetic influences on the skeleton, as well as remodeling events in hard and soft tissues during repair, treatment, and with altered loading scenarios. Further, a µCT modality for clinical imaging of calcified tissue microstructure, called high-resolution peripheral quantitative CT (HR-pQCT), has recently been developed. This technology inaugurated a new era of non-invasive quantitative skeletal imaging, and has become a powerful tool for clinical research of musculoskeletal disorders.

In the Penn Center for Musculoskeletal Disorders (PCMD), µCT imaging has been part of a broader “Imaging Core (IC)”. In the current proposal, due to a dramatically increased demand amongst our investigators for access to specific µCT modalities and specialized µCT imaging techniques, the need to develop new µCT imaging and analysis methods, and the desire to progress more deeply into this modality rather than more broadly across modalities for our community, a focused µCT Imaging Core (µCTIC) will replace the previous broad IC. However, in recognition of the importance of other imaging modalities, access for our investigators to these modalities (e.g., MRI, ultrasound and particularly for small animals) will be available through the existing Core facilities on campus and supported by a new intellectual guidance and funding mechanism as described in the Administrative Core. It is important to note that the proposed µCTIC does not exist for our members without this P30-supported PCMD. The overall objective of the µCTIC is to offer a wide range of µCT imaging approaches to evaluate musculoskeletal tissue injury and repair, and to provide training and consultation for new projects and collaborations utilizing these assays. Importantly, the µCTIC of the PCMD will have its home in Stemmler Hall, the same building as the other two Resource Cores and the Administrative Core, defining a clear home for the PCMD overall. The Specific Aims for the µCTIC are:

Aim 1: To provide guidance and expertise on the use of µCT imaging for musculoskeletal research through educational enrichment programs and one-on-one interactions.
Aim 2: To provide a range of µCT imaging resources, expertise, and services for the study of the structure, function and physiology of the musculoskeletal system in laboratory animals and humans.
Aim 3: To develop new µCT imaging-based techniques that will be applicable to musculoskeletal research.
Aim 4: To provide funding for the development of new projects and collaborations and to develop preliminary and/or feasibility data for investigators.

Successful completion of these Aims will significantly enhance the environment and capabilities of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and other institutions within the region, leading to innovative approaches to address musculoskeletal disorders and to new collaborations amongst Center members who may not have previously included µCT imaging in their musculoskeletal research programs.

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