Nuclear medicine is the medical speciality concerned with the use of safe and small amounts of radioactive materials for diagnostic, therapeutic, and research purposes. More specifically, nuclear medicine is a part of molecular imaging because it produces images which reflect biological processes that take place at the cellular and subcellular levels. A typical nuclear medicine study involves the administration of a radionuclide into the body in order to obtain images of the organs, to perform various body function studies and to treat diseases. Most of the radionuclides used for diagnostic studies emit gamma rays, while the cell-damaging properties of beta particles are used in therapeutic applications. Radionuclides for use in nuclear medicine are derived either from nuclear reactors which produce radioisotopes with longer half-lives, or from cyclotrons/generators which produce radioisotopes with shorter half-lives.
Radioisotopes/Radiopharmaceuticals have affinities for specific organs, bones, or tissues and emit gamma rays that can be detected externally by scintillation cameras. Images are created by computers and provide data and information about the areas of the body being viewed.
Nuclear medicine imaging techniques combine the use of radioactive substances, detectors, and computers to provide functional images inside the human body by using advanced techniques like positron emission tomography (PET) and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). Nuclear medicine imaging is useful for detecting tumors, irregular or inadequate blood flow to various tissues, blood cell disorders and inadequate functioning of organs. During diagnostic procedures, the patient experiences little or no discomfort and the radiation dose delivered is very small.
Nuclear medicine technical experts are highly skilled individuals and their responsibilities include performing in vivo, radiation safety and quality control procedures. Other responsibilities which include operating the cameras that create images including patient positioning and processing the data for research purposes. The discipline of nuclear medicine also produces dedicated scientists who develop radiopharmaceuticals/radioisotopes for the imaging/therapies of organs.
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