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Exploratory Neutron Tomography of Articular Cartilage.

OBJECTIVE: To investigate the feasibility of using neutron tomography to gain new knowledge of human articular cartilage degeneration in osteoarthritis (OA). Different sample preparation techniques were evaluated to identify maximum intra-tissue contrast.

DESIGN: Human articular cartilage samples from 14 deceased donors (18-75 years, 9 males, 5 females) and 4 patients undergoing total knee replacement due to known OA (all female, 61-75 years) were prepared using different techniques: control in saline, treated with heavy water saline, fixed and treated in heavy water saline, and fixed and dehydrated with ethanol. Neutron tomographic imaging (isotropic voxel sizes from 7.5 to 13.5 µm) was performed at two large scale facilities. The 3D images were evaluated for gradients in hydrogen attenuation as well as compared to images from absorption X-ray tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, and histology.

RESULTS: Cartilage was distinguishable from background and other tissues in neutron tomographs. Intra-tissue contrast was highest in heavy water-treated samples, which showed a clear gradient from the cartilage surface to the bone interface. Increased neutron flux or exposure time improved image quality but did not affect the ability to detect gradients. Samples from older donors showed high variation in gradient profile, especially from donors with known OA.

CONCLUSIONS: Neutron tomography is a viable technique for specialized studies of cartilage, particularly for quantifying properties relating to the hydrogen density of the tissue matrix or water movement in the tissue.

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