A device to enable the early diagnosis of bone conditions in premature babies is to be developed by an academic at Hull University.
Chris Langton has secured a £134,000 grant from Action Medical Research to create an ultrasound neonatal scanner to identify low mineral stores common in infants with a low birthweight.
It will be the world's first use of the technology for this end and a key advance, as many premature babies cannot undergo a traditional X-ray. Low skeletal mineral stores can cause poor bone development, leading to fractures or diseases such as rickets.
Professor Langton will work with Faisal Ahmed of Glasgow University, who will perform clinical trials of the axial skeletal scanner in a hospital setting once it has been designed and assembled.
"We hope to have a working prototype within 12 months and a pilot project completed within two years," said Professor Langton, who is sub-dean for research in Hull University's Postgraduate Medical Institute and director of research and development performance for Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals.
"After that, we will need to develop a collaboration with a company and submit it to more rigorous clinical trials. It will be about five years before it enters hospitals."
Professor Langton was the first to develop an ultrasound to detect osteoporosis in the 1980s. "There's now one of those in almost every hospital in the world," he said. "Now I want to look at the other end of the spectrum at neonates - those at highest risk."
The developers hope the technology will eventually be extended to young children with hormonal bone problems. But Professor Langton admits the research carries an element of risk.
"We are measuring extremely small bones; some as small as 5mm long. But what we've proposed, and what the referees liked, is to change the frequency of the ultrasound. We hope that by doing so we will get our measurements."