My watch list  

Nuclear medicine

  Nuclear medicine is a branch of medicine and medical imaging that uses the nuclear properties of matter in diagnosis and therapy. More specifically, nuclear medicine is a part of molecular imaging because it produces images that reflect biological processes that take place at the cellular and subcellular level. Nuclear medicine procedures use pharmaceuticals that have been labeled with radionuclides (radiopharmaceuticals). In diagnosis, radioactive substances are administered to patients and the radiation emitted is detected. The diagnostic tests involve the formation of an image using a gamma camera or positron emission tomography. Imaging may also be referred to as radionuclide imaging or nuclear scintigraphy. Other diagnostic tests use probes to acquire measurements from parts of the body, or counters for the measurement of samples taken from the patient. In therapy, radionuclides are administered to treat disease or provide palliative pain relief. For example, administration of Iodine-131 is often used for the treatment of thyrotoxicosis and thyroid cancer.

Nuclear medicine differs from most other imaging modalities in that the tests primarily show the physiological function of the system being investigated as opposed to traditional anatomical imaging such as CT or MRI. In some centers, the nuclear medicine images can be superimposed, using software or hybrid cameras, on images from modalities such as CT or MRI to highlight which part of the body the radiopharmaceutical is concentrated in. This practice is often referred to as image fusion or co-registration.

Nuclear medicine diagnostic tests are usually provided by a dedicated department within a hospital and may include facilities for the preparation of radiopharmaceuticals. The specific name of a department can vary from hospital to hospital, with the most common names being the nuclear medicine department and the radioisotope department.

A majority of the world's supply of medical isotopes are produced at the Chalk River Laboratories in Chalk River, Ontario, Canada. This reactor took longer than expected to repair, and in late 2007 a critical shortage of these isotopes has occurred. As of 11 December, the Canadian government is proposing legislation to re-open the reactor and allow the production of more isotopes.[1]


Diagnostic testing

Diagnostic tests in nuclear medicine exploit the way that the body handles substances differently when there is disease or pathology present. The radionuclide introduced into the body is often chemically bound to a complex that acts characteristically within the body; this is commonly known as a tracer. In the presence of disease, a tracer will often be distributed around the body and/or processed differently. For example, the ligand methylene-diphosphonate (MDP) can be preferentially taken up by bone. By chemically attaching technetium-99m to MDP, radioactivity can be transported and attached to bone via the hydroxyapatite for imaging. Any increased physiological function, such as due to a fracture in the bone, will usually mean increased concentration of the tracer. This often results in the appearance of a 'hot-spot' which is a focal increase in radio-accumulation, or a general increase in radio-accumulation throughout the physiological system. Some disease processes result in the exclusion of a tracer, resulting in the appearance of a 'cold-spot'. Many tracer complexes have been developed in order to image or treat many different organs, glands, and physiological processes. The types of tests can be split into two broad groups: in-vivo and in-vitro:

Types of studies

A typical nuclear medicine study involves administration of a radionuclide into the body by intravenous injection in liquid or aggregate form, ingestion while combined with food, inhalation as a gas or aerosol, or rarely, injection of a radionuclide that has undergone micro-encapsulation. Some studies require the labeling of a patient's own blood cells with a radionuclide (leukocyte scintigraphy and red blood cell scintigraphy). Most diagnostic radionuclides emit gamma rays, while the cell-damaging properties of beta particles are used in therapeutic applications. Refined radionuclides for use in nuclear medicine are derived from fission or fusion processes in nuclear reactors, which produce radioisotopes with longer half-lives, or cyclotrons, which produce radioisotopes with shorter half-lives, or take advantage of natural decay processes in dedicated generators, i.e. Molybdenum/Technetium or Strontium/Rubidium.

The most commonly used intravenous radionuclides are:

The most commonly used gaseous/aerosol radionuclides are:

  • Xenon-133
  • Krypton-81m
  • Technetium-99m Technegas®
  • Technetium-99m DTPA


The end result of the nuclear medicine imaging process is a "dataset" comprising one or more images. In multi-image datasets the array of images may represent a time sequence (ie. cine or movie) often called a "dynamic" dataset, a cardiac gated time sequence, or a spatial sequence where the gamma-camera is moved relative to the patient. SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) is the process by which images acquired from a rotating gamma-camera are reconstructed to produce an image of a "slice" through the patient at a particular position. A collection of parallel slices form a slice-stack, a three-dimensional representation of the distribution of radionuclide in the patient.

The nuclear medicine computer may require millions of lines of source code to provide quantitative analysis packages for each of the specific imaging techniques available in nuclear medicine,

Radiation dose

A patient undergoing a nuclear medicine procedure will receive a radiation dose. Under present international guidelines it is assumed that any radiation dose, however small, presents a risk. The radiation doses delivered to a patient in a nuclear medicine investigation present a very small risk of inducing cancer. In this respect it is similar to the risk from X-ray investigations except that the dose is delivered internally rather than externally.

The radiation dose from a nuclear medicine investigation is expressed as an effective dose with units of sieverts (usually given in millisieverts, mSv). The effective dose resulting from an investigation is influenced by the amount of radioactivity administered in megabecquerels (MBq), the physical properties of the radiopharmaceutical used, its distribution in the body and its rate of clearance from the body.

Effective doses can range from 6 μSv (0.006 mSv) for a 3 MBq chromium-51 EDTA measurement of glomerular filtration rate to 37 mSv for a 150 MBq thallium-201 non-specific tumour imaging procedure. The common bone scan with 600 MBq of technetium-99m-MDP has an effective dose of 3 mSv (1).

See also


1. [1] "Ottawa rushes bill to restart urgent isotope production"

2. Notes for guidance on the clinical administration of radiopharmaceuticals and use of sealed radioactive sources. Administration of radioactive substances committee UK 1998.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Nuclear_medicine". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE