Vertebral morphology characterisation: developing reliable methods for scoliosis research

Aims of the Study:

Characterising the shape of the thoracic vertebrae (upper small bones forming the backbone) is important for understanding what happens during the development and progression of scoliosis. The complicated shape of the vertebrae, however, is not easy to characterise with simple measurements. The aim of the project was to develop a new method for characterising the shape of the thoracic vertebrae. To achieve this aim magnetic resonance (MR) data was collected from twenty volunteers. After scanning all of their thoracic vertebrae once, repeated scanning on three vertebrae was conducted to assess how reliable the method was.

 Outcome of research:

This novel method for characterising the shape of the thoracic vertebrae, called active shape modelling, required us to place landmark points at specific locations on the images. An example is shown below; this shows landmark points (yellow) placed on the images to outline the vertebrae and the location of the facet joints (joints between two adjacent vertebrae) and spinous process.

After the landmark points were placed on all the images, they were combined to determine the average shape and to find patterns in the way the shape varied along the spine and between the volunteers. One of the patterns identified by this process represented differences in the relative size and orientation of the different parts of the vertebrae. The patterns of variation corresponded well to what is already known about thoracic vertebrae, indicating that this novel method was capturing appropriate information. The method was also found to be very reliable as it gave very similar results for the vertebrae that had been scanned twice.

The project successfully achieved its aims by developing a new method for characterising thoracic vertebrae shape. The project also showed that the vertebrae can be reliably characterised from MR images; this opens up the possibility of assessing vertebrae repeatedly, potentially giving us more useful information about the development and progression of the deformity seen in scoliosis.

Publications:

Paper yet to be published

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