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Network models for characterization of trabecular bone

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Trabecular bone is a lightweight, compliant material organized as a web of struts and rods (trabeculae) that erode with age and the onset of bone diseases like osteoporosis, leading to increased fracture risk. The traditional diagnostic marker of osteoporosis, bone mineral density (BMD), has been shown in ex vivo experiments to correlate poorly with fracture resistance when considered on its own, while structural features in conjunction with BMD can explain more of the variation in trabecular bone strength. We develop a network-based model of trabecular bone by creating graphs from micro-computed tomography images of human bone, with weighted links representing trabeculae and nodes representing branch points. These graphs enable calculation of quantitative network metrics to characterize trabecular structure. We also create finite element models of the networks in which each link is represented by a beam, facilitating analysis of the mechanical response of the bone samples to simulated loading. We examine the structural and mechanical properties of trabecular bone at the scale of individual trabeculae (of order 0.1 mm) and at the scale of selected volumes of interest (approximately a few mm), referred to as VOIs. At the VOI scale, we find significant correlations between the stiffness of VOIs and 10 different structural metrics. Individually, the volume fraction of each VOI is most strongly correlated to the stiffness of the VOI. We use multiple linear regression to identify the smallest subset of variables needed to capture the variation in stiffness. In a linear fit, we find that node degree, weighted node degree, Z-orientation, weighted Z-orientation, trabecular spacing, link length, and the number of links are the structural metrics that are most significant (p<0.05) in capturing the variation of stiffness in trabecular networks.

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