Medical Physicist, Dr Liz Parvin, captivated physics and biology students with her well attended lecture, entitled “Radiating Health: an α, β, γ of Radionuclide Imaging”.
Dr Parvin, of the Open University, took the students on a journey through the various diagnostic and imaging options that are available to doctors in a hospital. She highlighted that, compared to techniques such as X-rays and MRI, the use of radioactive materials is comparatively unknown. She made the point that such images can provide very useful information about the function (as opposed to simply the structure) of all the major organs of the body, and that the technique is important in many diagnoses including the most serious, such as cancer.
Her perfectly pitched talk started with a brief recap of the GCSE and A Level basics of radiation and radioactive nuclei before she got the students to discuss what criteria they would use to select an isotope for a particular patient. They looked at the type of radiation emitted, the half-life and chemical properties as well as logistics and cost. Dr Parvin made the case for research into a wider range of potential isotopes since many of the nuclear reactors that currently provide the Technetium-99m used in 95% of imaging are being decommissioned and there are already global shortages.
She went on to discuss and evaluate the techniques used to get a radioisotope inside a patient as well the operation of the various detectors. Several clinical examples showed the merits of these machines and the images they produce, as well as the improvement in the quality of images over the years.
Dr Parvin concluded that by looking at the most up-to-date machines that use combined PET and CT detectors and suggested the direction she thought current research would take the industry, highlighting some of the potential advances that are around the corner.