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Detecting the Undetectable

New study aims to find undetectable infections that impair healing of the scaphoid

X-rays of scaphoid fracture

A simple fall can lead to long-term hand problems such as arthritis due to fracturing the scaphoid bone in the wrist. Scaphoid fractures are known to have the highest rate of healing failures. While this bone’s fragile blood supply is commonly thought to be the main reason for why it is difficult to heal, Dr. Ruby Grewal is looking into a different reason – infection. 

Infections are known to cause difficulty in healing bones, but traditional tests for infections in the scaphoid have come up negative. With new advancements in detecting microbial DNA, scientists can now test for ‘clinically undetectable’ infections. 

In a new study, Dr. Grewal will use microbial DNA test whether or not there are infections in the scaphoid fracture which causes improper healing of the bone. 
“The goal of this study is to use advanced DNA sequencing technology to test whether or not we can detect evidence of microorganisms in non-healing scaphoids,” explains Dr. Grewal, Lawson Scientist and Orthopaedic Surgeon at the Roth McFarlane Hand and Upper Limb Centre (HULC) at St. Joseph’s Health Care London.

Finding new causes of improper healing of the scaphoid bone could improve treatments for individuals with these injuries and prevent long-term problems with hand function. These insights into the causes of improper healing could also prevent young patients from developing wrist arthritis.

X-rays of scaphoid fracture

From left to right: Normal scaphoid fracture. Scaphoid fracture that is struggling to heal. Scaphoid non-union where the bone has failed to heal.

Dr. Grewal’s study is being funded through the Lawson Internal Research Fund (IRF).

“The financial support provided by Lawson’s IRF is of utmost importance to researchers. These funds will allow our team to embark on a new area of research and test a novel hypothesis,” says Dr. Grewal, “While traditional granting agencies are reluctant to fund completely novel areas of research without pilot data to prove feasibility, the Lawson IRF allows researchers to investigate new theories in a sound scientific manner. Without the ability to test new ideas we cannot innovate and make advancements in health care. Support for this project allows for that.”

Lawson’s IRF is designed to provide Lawson scientists the opportunity to obtain start-up funds for new projects with the potential to obtain larger funding, be published in a high-impact journal, or provide a clinical benefit to patients. Funding is provided by the clinical departments of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, as well as the hospital foundations (London Health Sciences Foundation and St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation).