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The Future of Nuclear Medicine, Thomas J Biggans, Clinical Scientist, NHS Tayside

80 years ago a patient named Elizabeth was asked to drink a radioactive cocktail to treat her overactive thyroid. 5 years later a man was asked to do the same to treat his thyroid cancer. Fast forward to 2022 and we now have radioactive drugs to treat bone metastases, neuroendocrine tumours and liver cancer with another to treat prostate cancer on the precipice of being approved for use in the UK.

The power of molecular radiotherapy is in the ability of these radioactive drugs to seek out cancer cells throughout the body. This means that treatment is delivered to both primary tumours and hidden metastases.

We can track these drugs as they move through the body using Nuclear Medicine techniques. Being able to see what is being treated and for how long allows us to calculate the radiation doses to target tumours and healthy organs. Now we have the capability to adapt the treatment for each individual patient to maximise response and minimise side effects.

By attaching a different radioactive element to the drug used for therapy we can create a diagnostic partner. This partner provides pictures of where the drug goes in each patient so we can see if treatment is likely to work. After treatment we can make use of this partner again to see if there is any disease left.

Staff with the necessary knowledge and skills are needed to develop and deliver these therapies. Nuclear Medicine departments are made up of a multidisciplinary team of:

· Receptionists & Secretaries

· Pharmacy Technicians

· Pharmacists

· Technologists & Radiographers

· Nurses & Healthcare Assistants

· Physicists

· Radiologists & Physicians

· Cleaners

As a STEM ambassador I try to raise the profile of Nuclear Medicine and inspire the next generation to pursue careers in the field. Interactive demonstrations are a great way to get outreach participants more involved and demonstrate that radiation is all around us. I also make use of virtual reality as a new tool that allows individuals to gain an understanding of the patient experience or visit areas which are normally off limits.

There is possibly no cancer that could not be treated with radioactive drugs. I believe it is the future of Nuclear Medicine and we need the next generation ready to take it on.


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