International Year of Crystallography

Human health

 

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On average, every Australian can expect to have a nuclear medicine procedure that uses a radioisotope for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes at some stage in their life. 

 

Patient receving an injection before an PET Scan
SPECT Scan

Nuclear medicine and radiology are the medical techniques that involve the use of radiation or radioactivity to diagnose, treat and prevent disease. While radiology has been used for close to a century, the term "nuclear medicine" began to be used around 50 years ago.

 

Today, about one-third of all procedures used in modern hospitals involve radiation or radioactivity. These procedures are safe, effective and don't require anaesthetic. They are useful in a broad spectrum of medical specialties, from pediatrics to cardiology to psychiatry.

 

While both nuclear medicine and radiology are used as a diagnostic procedure (to determine a patient's health, monitor the course of an illness or follow the progress of the treatment) and as a therapeutic procedure (to treat illnesses), they are different in that, with nuclear medicine, radioisotopes are introduced into the body internally, whereas in radiology X-rays penetrate the body from outside the body.

 

Nuclear medicine uses small amounts of radiation to provide information about a person's body and the functioning of specific organs. The information is used by physicians to make an accurate diagnosis of the patient's illness via nuclear imaging. Nuclear medicine can also be used to directly treat disease or to relieve pain.


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Bone and equipment sterilisation


Irradiation is the best method for destroying any residual bacteria in human bones and tendons that are used for transplants and grafting in surgery. The bones and tendons are processed to ensure they are completely sterile before the transplant takes place so they do not transmit infections.

 

Irradiation is also used to sterilise medical products including bandages, cotton tips, eye pads, catheters and medical devices such as knee implants. ANSTO's expertise includes the accurate and reliable measurement of these doses of radiation. Manufacturers must then test those products to assure sterility before use in hospitals.

 

ANSTO's GATRI facility is one of the leading irradiation facilities in Australia.

 

Bone imaging


Bone imaging through nuclear scintigraphy can be used to diagnose stress fractures of bones as well as osteoarthritis and bone infections.

 

A radioactive isotope is combined with a bone-seeking molecule and is then injected into the body of the patient. The bone-seeking molecule carries the radioactive flag into the sites where natural bone rebuilding is taking place. This is detected and a computer enhanced image is created to effectively highlight the smallest of abnormalities, including stress fractures.

 

Stress fractures of bones are a common, expensive and dangerous problem for racehorses. Veterinarians and thoroughbred trainers are now using nuclear scintigraphy to successfully diagnose and treat their horses before costly or fatal injuries can occur. The discovery of cancer can occur up to two years earlier using such nuclear diagnostic techniques.