This past weekend, Active Life Scientific — a Santa Barbara startup founded by UCSB alumni and faculty — took part in a study that presented findings regarding the measurement of bone strength and other factors in individuals who have suffered fractures from causes such as osteoporosis.

Active Life, founded in 2007 after winning the UCSB Technology Management Program’s New Venture Competition, invented a device called the Reference Point Instrument that allows medical experts to measure bone strength, density and material properties without having to perform invasive bone sampling. The company received the award for its medical diagnostic tool, which includes a mechanically-driven test probe enclosed in a microscopically small cylinder, at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research this past weekend.

Physics professor Paul Hansma, chief scientist at Active Life, has focused on biophysical and bone-related research for the past 20 years. Hansma said the breakthrough technology utilized was developed at UCSB research laboratories, adding that the company’s now-successful founders were once UCSB students competing in the New Venture Competition.

“The founders of Active Life Scientific — Davis Brimer and Alexander Proctor — proposed the company during the annual business plan competition of the technology management program here at UCSB,” Hansma said. “They won the business plan competition with their plan to commercialize business point indentation and use the money from their winnings to actually start the company.”

According to Hansma, the RPI device will help reveal the strength of a certain portion of bone and thus help doctors determine the risk of a fracture. He said information found through diagnostic trials made by the device has also led to other discoveries, particularly in regards to the bone health of women with osteoporosis.

“Clinical trials conducted in Barcelona by Dr. Adolfo Diez-Perez have shown that women who have recently had hip fractures have bone (in the opposite leg) that is more easily fractured microscopically than the bone of other women who are the same age but in the hospital for other reasons,” Hansma said. “The microscopic measurements of how easily bone is fractured on the tibia are thus related to fracture risk of the hip.”

A study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research entitled “Micro indentation for in vivo Measurement of Bone Tissue Mechanical Properties in Humans,” written by Hansma and his research team, states that RPI can detect the strength and quality of human bones.

Current tests of bone density are done with dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), which includes invasive bone sampling. Drugs such as Fosamax or Boniva are prescribed to patients to increase bone density but do not address the issue of bone quality.

With the RPI, doctors would be able to determine bone quality and thus develop specific therapies for the problems through studying the instrument-created micro-fractures of tested patients.

Jennifer Rios, a 2010 UCSB alumna who now works at Active Life Scientific, said the newly developed RPI will aid in providing previously unreachable details on bone strength.

“There are three components to whole bone strength: mass, structure and material properties. There are a few tools available that measure mass, such as DEXA and CT, as well as structure — MRI, Histology and µCT,” Rios said. “However, Reference Point Indentation is the only technology that can measure the contribution of material properties to whole bone strength. This technology is revolutionary for the scientific world because RPI provides previously impossible in vivo measure of bone material properties — a key contributor to whole bone strength.”