Fifty patients in Oxfordshire are to have cement injected into their spines as pain relief for their brittle bone disease, writes Victoria Owen.

It is hoped that the treatment, set to take place at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre in Headington, Oxford, will help people suffering from osteoporosis a disease that weakens bones.

Dr David Wilson will strengthen people's spines by pouring the sterile liquid cement into holes in their bones, using a syringe the size of a knitting needle.

The one-day procedure, known as vertebroplasty, is carried out without general anaesthetic and uses X-rays for guidance.

The consultant radiologist and his colleague Dr John Wass, hope the treatment will prove an effective alternative to conventional drugs. Dr Wilson has treated 40 people in the past three years with positive results.

He said: "The treatment was first used in France, but we don't know if drug treatment is better or how the old treatment and the new compare.

"But it seems that collapsing bones caused by osteoporosis are what cause pain in sufferers and we know that this cement treatment can prevent that.

"However, only selected patients can use the treatment. If the bone is too soft the holes may leak. In such caeses, vertebroplasty could be more of a risk than effective."

The trials, involving 100 patients, will start as soon as Dr Wilson is given the all-clear by the local ethics committee.

Fifty will be given the new treatment and the others will be given drugs.

The special cement, which is used in hip replacement operations, has already been used successfully in vertebroplasty procedures at the NOC for cancer victims, whose bones have withered from their condition.

The hospital is one of only a few in the UK to use the new technique.