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Nuclear Medicine

What is Nuclear Medicine?

Nuclear Medicine is a non-invasive diagnostic imaging modality which uses specially designed cameras and a small amount of short lived radioactive material to detect, quantify, diagnose and treat disease processes that are occurring within the body. Pathological disease processes demonstrate signs of functional alterations prior to visualization of anatomical changes. As a result, Nuclear Medicine provides the physiologic and biochemical data in normal or diseased tissues that anatomical imaging modalities such as CT, MRI and X-ray cannot.


image  How are patients imaged?

A Nuclear Medicine procedure first begins with the administration of a specific chemical compound combined to a radioactive nuclide forming a radiopharmaceutical. Each radiopharmaceutical consists of specific chemical compounds which are able to localize within the tissue of choice based on cellular physiological processes. In contrast to CT or X-ray where the source of radioactivity is transmitted through the patient, in Nuclear Medicine, the patient becomes the radioactive source as the radionuclide undergoes charac-
teristic nuclear decay processes within the tissue. It is this radioactive emission that is imaged by specially designed external camera systems capable of detecting radioactive emissions. Examples of imaging techniques include planar scintigraphy, Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET). Cameras that provide additional anatomical detail superimposed on the nuclear scan include co-registered SPECT/CT and PET/CT. Nuclear Medicine cameras are constantly evolving to improve image sensitivity and resolution in order to obtain the most diagnostic images possible.

What are the responsibilities of the Nuclear Medicine Technologist?

image  Some important responsibilities of the Nuclear Medicine Technologist include but are not limited to: patient comfort, safety and care, patient exam explanation, radiation safe practices, proper administration of the radiopharmaceutical, correct patient positioning, proper image acquisition and subsequent computer processing. The technologist is also responsible for camera quality control to ensure diagnostically sound images are obtained from a properly functioning camera.

The Future of Nuclear Medicine

The future of Nuclear Medicine can be divided into two rapidly progressing categories: the implementation of co-registered SPECT/CT and PET/CT imaging modalities. Regarding SPECT/CT, the constantly evolving physics of co-registered SPECT/CT cameras makes obtaining invaluable images much more efficient and diagnostic. Furthermore, concentrated research has been given to new and improved radiopharmaceuticals  image
specifically designed for heightened localization at the cellular level. When combining the instantaneous fusion of functional SPECT images to anatomical CT images with improved localization of radiopharmaceuticals exponentially increases the diagnostic potential of nuclear medicine.

The rapid growth of PET/CT is due to the implementation of specific patient tailored diagnostic medicine. The advent of specific radiopharmaceutical biomarkers used to image physiological processes such as cell proliferation, angiogenesis and hypoxia have catapulted PET/CT to the forefront imaging modality for oncology and cardiology. Furthermore, the fundamental principles of PET imaging have been refined to include co-registered PET/MRI and positron emission mammography (PEM). Through continued research and development, nuclear medicine will continue to provide patients with significant diagnostic answers specific to their needs and, more importantly, answers otherwise unobtainable with anatomical imaging alone.

Wheeling Jesuit University's nuclear medicine technology program continues to cater to the dynamic growth of current technology and development. In addition to SPECT and PET courses, the program integrates courses that cross- train students with the fundamental physics of CT and cross sectional anatomy in order to prepare them for the future of specialized SPECT/CT and PET/CT co-registered modalities. In addition to cross–training, this program ensures students are educated didactically and clinically to be knowledgeable and motivated technologists in a growing and competitive field.

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