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Shaping the Future of Software
New Bones About It

by Alicia P. Gregory

The Problem: "I look at bone growth factors and their effectiveness for bone regeneration in the lower jaw," says Oneida Arosarena, an assistant professor of surgery who has been in the UK College of Medicine's Division of Otolaryngology for three years. She's looking at a lot of different variables: three types of bone growth factor (these are naturally occurring growth factors that normally shut off after your bones are done growing) and various carriers for the growth factors, like collagen.

Photo of Oneida ArosarenaIn her research on facial bone regeneration Oneida Arosarena, a UK assistant professor of surgery, is using the color-recognition software Hayes's students created.

"The ultimate goal of my research is to be able to reconstruct defects in the cranial-facial skeleton without having to harvest bone from other places, like the fibula or the hip, which requires lengthy reconstructive surgeries," says Arosarena.

A lot of people are working on the same problem, she says, but Arosarena's approach is different in that she is varying the dosage of the various growth factors. She is currently seeking grant funding to look at prolonged delivery of the growth factors, which are rapidly metabolized by the body. "If you can deliver them over a long period of time, you get better bone growth because that more closely replicates the normal healing process.

"Our method of evaluating new bone growth is where Jane's assistance becomes valuable," Arosarena says. She uses stereology—a method of assessing volume by doing counts of new bone in small sections throughout the sample tissue. Arosarena would use transparencies to lay a grid on top of projected images from her microscope. She'd use a hand-held counter to count points where the grid lines intersected with areas of new bone, marrow and soft tissue. This takes a long time.

The Goal: Speed up the process by creating an effective but inexpensive computer program.

The Assignment: Create a software program for a workstation, using color recognition, to automatically distinguish between bone, marrow and soft tissue.

The Result: "What we did was some pretty simple image processing," Hayes says. Arosarena explains, "The stains we use to process the tissue stain bone one color, soft tissue another. So the students programmed the software to recognize bone is pink and soft tissue is blue. When we place a section under the microscope, it sends that image to the computer and the program acquires that image. Based on color recognition it can tell me how many points fall in the pink area. But what's really nice about this software is that I can override it.

"Sometimes when you transition from one tissue type to another, the color difference is not clear. So if I think the computer isn't labeling the tissue correctly, I can override it," she says. The computer doesn't eliminate the need for a trained eye.

"There are similar image-recognition products on the market [which average $5,000], but they don't give you the option to override the computer's counts," says Arosarena. "I got a great program, and the students wrote it in one semester [Fall 2002]. I just had a paper accepted by the Archives of Otolaryngology, and I included all of their names in my acknowledgments. They at least deserved that, they were so much help."

Arosarena adds, "I can do now in two weeks what would take a month or more in terms of manual point counting."

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