What Is It? Fraying Matter

Norman Barker

This lacelike pattern is made from a hard substance that has turned as fragile as fabric. Norman Barker, an associate professor of pathology and art as applied to medicine at Johns Hopkins University, took this photograph of the femur of a woman between the ages of 45 and 50 with osteoporosis. It shows cancellous, or spongy, bone, the network of interconnected spicules that form inside a bone’s stronger outer layers. Cancellous bone provides the framework on which bone marrow cells grow and also makes essential minerals available to the body. In osteoporosis, the spaces between the spicules start to get bigger, “and this awakening of the bone leads to fractures,” Barker says. Using new software tools, he stitched multiple images together to create an unlimited depth of focus for a better look at how osteo­porosis ravages the body. “This type of image would have been impossible to capture just a couple of years ago,” Barker notes.

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