Osteoporosis test developed at UL to benefit millions of people

15 Nov 2016

What began as a discovery in 2004 has become a triumph in tech transfer, and could counter silent killer disease osteoporosis. Image: Javier Regueiro/Shutterstock

Breakthrough research developed at the University of Limerick will enable millions of people to check their risk of developing osteoporosis with a new over-the-counter test.

The Osentia Osteoporosis screening test is a new clinically proven, safe and accurate at-home test that is now available for the first time, initially in the UK.

“This is an exciting development and demonstrates how research can positively impact people’s lives,” said Dr Mary Shire, vice president of research at the University of Limerick (UL).

Future Human

“We are proud that this development started at UL and congratulate all of those involved in the long and hard effort that we know it took to bring this important development to the marketplace.”

‘This work commenced as a short, speculative, project in 2004’

Osteoporosis, known as the ‘silent disease’ because it has no symptoms and can remain undiagnosed until a bone is fractured, is a major public health concern, with large quantities of people attending hospital every year because of a fragility fracture.

It is also one of the main causes of hospital stays for women over the age of 45 – more so than diabetes, heart attack and breast cancer.

The test uses the latest screening technology to assess an individual’s risk of suffering fragility fractures – a common sign of osteoporosis – by analysing a fingernail or toenail clipping and providing results in just seven days.

Technology transfer: a journey from lab to shop counter

Osteoporosis test developed at UL to benefit millions of people

Dr Mark Towler’s microscope: the starting point for a journey of discovery that has resulted in an over-the-counter treatment for potentially millions of people. Image source: UL

The initial research that led to the development of Osentia arose out of research collaboration in 2004 between UL’s Materials and Surface Science Institute and the Limerick Regional Hospital (now University Hospital Limerick).

The collaboration led to a discovery by Dr Mark Towler and Prof Declan Lyons, which was patented by the UL Technology Transfer Office.

The patented discovery paved the way for further refinements by UL campus company, Crescent Diagnostics Ltd, now operating in the UK as Crescent Ops Ltd.

“This work commenced as a short, speculative, project in 2004,” explained Prof Noel O’Dowd, director of the Materials and Surface Science Institute at UL.

“Such research work was made possible by the significant investment in research infrastructure from the HEA’s Programme in Research in Third-Level Institutions (PRTLI).

“Based on the initial results, significant funding was received from Enterprise Ireland and from venture capital firms, which enabled translation of the fundamental scientific work into a commercial product. It is really gratifying to see such a success story and I would like to offer my congratulations to Prof Towler and his research team,” O’Dowd said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years