Molecular Imaging News
November 14, 2005
IAEA Symposium on Radiopharmaceuticals Opens 14 November Vienna
Nuclear medicine is more than the picture of a patient drinking an "atomic cocktail" of a radioactive substance to help doctors diagnose a problem. It's an animated image of a throbbing heart, a detailed functional map of the brain, and the targeted treatment of cancer. The health applications of nuclear medicine are advancing steadily, with efforts intensifying to reach more patients in developing countries.
The latest trends and developments are being reviewed at an IAEA scientific symposium opening 14 November 2005 in Vienna. The focus is on radiopharmaceuticals, the short-lived radioactive drugs physicians use to help them trace the body's metabolism, diagnose disease, and develop effective treatments. Physicians, health care practitioners, and radiopharmacists from more than 30 countries are participating in topical sessions covering the full range of radiopharmaceutical development, production, and use.
The growth of nuclear medicine and imaging applications is closely linked to the availability of new radioisotopes and the discovery of new radiopharmaceuticals. Almost 10 million patients benefit from the use of radiopharmaceuticals every year, industry reports show. In total more than 25 million radiopharmaceutical imaging procedures were carried out across the world in 2000, for the diagnosis of most major diseases.
With cancer on the rise in developing countries, one topic of emerging interest is the therapeutic role of radiopharmaceuticals. While surgery remains the most effective method for managing cancer, radiopharmaceuticals can be used as preferred markers. Surgeons use the markers for identifying metastatic lymph nodes and helping them achieve better precision in removing tumors. Accordingly, a new modality, called radioguided surgery (RIGS), is emerging for use in hospitals and clinics. Promising advances also are seen in targeted therapy for cancer management where the need for therapeutic radioisotopes is expected to grow. Such treatment can be highly specific in its ability to deliver a radiation dose to the tumor.
Many established diagnostic applications involve the radionuclide technetium-99m, which has a half-life of six hours. Physicians use a special detector called a gamma camera to observe how the element moves and how organs and tissues behave. One spectacular development in the field involves fluorine-18. This positron emitting isotope has opened up the regular clinical use of positron emission tomography (PET).
In many countries, radiopharmaceuticals are produced in cyclotrons, originally developed for nuclear physics research. Global trends show significant growth in the installation of new cyclotrons to produce radionuclides for a range of medical applications. The short half-life of most radioisotopes makes it important for the process to be automated and localized.
For more information on the symposium and related topics, see the IAEA Web site at www.IAEA.org.