MRI of the human body is largely made possible by the favorable relaxation properties of protons of water and triacyl glycerides prevalent in soft tissues. Hard tissues--key among them bone--are generally less amenable to measurement with in vivo MR imaging techniques, not so much as a result of the lower proton density but rather due to the extremely short life-times of the proton signal in water bound to solid-like entities, typically collagen, or being trapped in micro-pores. Either mechanism can enhance T2 relaxation by up to three orders of magnitude relative to their soft-tissue counterparts. Detection of these protons requires solid-state techniques that have emerged in recent years and that promise to add a new dimension to the study of hard tissues. Alternative approaches to probe calcified tissues exploit their characteristic magnetic properties. Bone, teeth and extra-osseous calcium-containing biomaterials are unique in that they are more diamagnetic than all other tissues and thus yield information indirectly by virtue of the induced magnetic fields present in their vicinity. Progress has also been made in methods allowing very high-resolution structural imaging of trabecular and cortical bone relying on detection of the surrounding soft-tissues. This brief review, much of it drawn from work conducted in the author's laboratory, seeks to highlight opportunities with focus on early-stage developments for image-based assessment of structure, function, physiology and mechanics of calcified tissues in humans via liquid and solid-state approaches, including proton, deuteron and phosphorus NMR and MRI.
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