Envisioning the Future

Discussing Where Nuclear Medicine and Diagnostic Imaging Are Headed


The IAEA helps Member States around the world obtain and safely apply nuclear medicine and diagnostic imaging (NMDI) techniques. From 5 to 9 May 2014, experts from around the world came to Vienna to discuss the future of NMDI.

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Nuclear technology can be applied to almost all aspects of human development, from generating electricity to finding drinkable water, but arguably amongst its biggest and most important contributions has been to improve human health. In 1895, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered X-rays and it wasn’t long before scientists started using X-rays to explore medical imaging. A vast array of nuclear medicine and diagnostic imaging techniques are now available to doctors, from plain radiography to Computer Tomography, to SPECT and PET- CT, which have revolutionised our ability to diagnose and fight diseases.

The opening chapter of the narrative on the rise of nuclear technology in medicine is well known, but where is it heading? What technologies are emerging and what new roles can nuclear medical techniques fill in the future?

From 5 to 9 May 2014 a group of international experts met at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna to answer these questions and discuss the future of nuclear medicine and diagnostic imaging. Titled The Future of Nuclear Medicine and Diagnostic Imaging, this technical meeting was the first time that experts from both nuclear medicine and diagnostic imaging had come together with the IAEA to discuss common goals and directions. Participants from 17 Member States attended this meeting (Algeria, Australia, Austria, Canada, Germany, India, Italy, France, Republic of Korea, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Philippines, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Uruguay and the USA). The meeting provided a platform for an exchange of views on technological trends and applications in the major fields of nuclear medicine and diagnostic imaging; defining future cost-effective research and educational activities of major interest to Member States; discussing the status of nuclear medicine and diagnostic imaging in Member States with a special focus on low and middle-income countries; and discussing the current and future training needs for both nuclear medicine and diagnostic imaging.

Being aware that regulatory bodies worldwide have different views in this field of medical specialization, the IAEA-organized event provided a unique opportunity for the participants to exchange information and assess areas of collaboration.

The objective of this event was to obtain expert advice from different regions, major journals and scientific societies on activities of the IAEA’s Nuclear Medicine and Diagnostic Imaging (NMDI) Section, and to subsequently produce a “futures-oriented” document integrating all the concepts discussed during the meeting, which could then be used as a reference for prospective IAEA activities in this area. The NMDI Section focuses on enhancing Member States’ capability to address health needs by the use of Nuclear Medicine techniques in both imaging and therapeutic applications. It achieves this by hosting experts’ meetings like this one, coordinating research projects, creating websites and databases, and publishing manuals and educational materials.

Split into ten sessions the meeting covered a range of topics; from discussing regional needs and experiences, to current technology trends. Sessions were devoted to specific techniques and diseases. Individual presentations from members of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI), the European Society of Radiology (ESR), the European Association of Nuclear Medicine (EANM), the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology (ASNC), the World Federation of Nuclear Medicine and Biology (WFNMB), the International Society of Radiology (ISR), the Asian Regional Cooperative Council for Nuclear Medicine (ARCCNM), and the Latin American Association of Societies of Nuclear Medicine and Biology (ALASBINM) discussed the impact of technological changes-perspective on scientific organizations.

One of the issues discussed in-depth was the use of technologies that do not use ionizing radiation, like echography, that are low-cost and reliable alternatives to other diagnostic imaging techniques.

Different Member States have different needs depending on their region and level of economic development. For this reason the experts broke off into groups and sought to find short and long-term solutions for low, middle, and high income countries. The experts’ conclusions suggested the IAEA focus on:

  • Patient care, diagnosis, and treatment;
  • The importance of implementing the appropriateness criteria in the clinical context based on the individual needs of the region and individual;
  • Medical imaging – continuing to help train Member States and proliferate the technology used in diagnostic imaging;
  • Promoting quality of practice, and safety of patients and staff; and
  • Finding the most efficient use of resources and being cost effective

The IAEA will be taking the experts’ conclusions and recommendations and prioritising them for future projects that will be part of the Agency’s 2016-17 budgetary cycle.

– By Michael Madsen, IAEA Office of Public Information and Communication

(Note to Media: We encourage you to republish these stories and kindly request attribution to the IAEA)

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