Cancer, cardiac diseases and neurological disorders all require a specific diagnosis and treatment.
Finding each of these early and specifically helps health professionals to attack, contain and cure them.
A technology that will help in these three areas and many more has been added to the arsenal for doctors in this province with the addition of Newfoundland and Labrador’s first positron emission tomography/computerized tomography (PET/CT) scanner.
Eastern Health officially opened the new Nuclear and Molecular Medicine Facility located at the Health Sciences Complex in St. John’s Tuesday with a news conference and tour of the facility.
Cyclotron Lift video
The PET/CT scanner will provide nuclear medical imaging services that will help determine a prognosis and path of treatment for patients in Newfoundland and Labrador.
In addition, this provides the first Cyclotron service for the province that allows for the onsite production of radioactive isotopes used with PET scans.
“Operating our PET/CT scanner in Newfoundland and Labrador will offer patients both a better chance at fighting a range of illnesses and more positive health outcomes,” Dr. Peter Hollett, clinical chief of Eastern Health’s nuclear and molecular medicine program and co-chair of the PET steering committee, said during Tuesday’s announcement.
“A PET/CT scan would be able to better inform physicians, farther in advance, whether their patient’s current cancer treatment is working compared to any other imaging techniques available. These scans will enable physicians to monitor blood flow in the heart more effectively and provide a means to positively diagnose Alzheimer’s disease from other types of dementia, which is something we could not previously do in this province,” he added.
Early use of the PET/CT equipment will be in the oncology department, as cancer patients are the largest group that will benefit from this technology.
The new scanner has been in use since Oct. 2 and will be in full use for the remainder of 2017.
“We will see 500 exams carried out through the remainder of 2017,” said Leslie O’Reilly, chair of Eastern Health’s board of trustees.
“When it gets up to full capacity, it will be used eight hours per day, five days a week and perform approximately 1,500 scans a year,” he added.
This addition will also enhance future research opportunities for Eastern Health and Memorial University.
“Eastern Health’s state-of-the-art nuclear and molecular medicine program will open up a wealth of interesting research opportunities that may lead to life-changing discoveries,” said Dr. Margaret Steele, dean of Memorial University’s faculty of medicine.
“Having access to the latest technology will enable Memorial and Eastern Health to partner in ground-breaking research that will better inform audiences about more targeted and personalized therapy for patients.”
The total cost for constructing the new Nuclear and Molecular Medicine facility and acquiring the new PET/CT scanner, cyclotron, furniture and equipment amounted to just over $46 million.
The Department of Health and Community Services provided capital funding of $31 million toward the construction of the new facility, approximately $10 million for the cyclotron and PET/CT scanner and $3.8 million for furniture, fixtures and equipment.
Through donations made to the Health Care Foundation, nearly $1.3 million was contributed toward two single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scanners.
The Health Care Foundation also contributed $55,000 toward items such as waiting room furnishings and comfort items throughout the new facility.
In addition to the facility, a host of new and advanced professionals were added to the roster of top-notch medical staff already working in this province.
Included in this mix are a nuclear medicine physician, radiopharmacist, radiochemist, medical physicist, cyclotron engineer, radiopharmacy technologists, quality control manager and research nurses.
“The bricks and mortar are wonderful, but access to technology is the key to providing the programs and services,” O’Reilly said.
“Attracting new physicians and medical staff, bringing fantastic support people to our province, will have a tremendous impact on our patients.”
How a scan works
A PET/CT scan is a type of imaging test that uses a radioactive substance called a medical isotope to look for disease in the body to show how organs and tissues are working.
The PET/CT scan combines the strengths of these two well-established imaging modalities into a single scan. This is vastly different from MRI and CT scans.
These tests show the structure of, and blood flow to and from, organs.
The medical isotope is given through an IV where the needle is most often inserted on the inside of your elbow. It travels through your blood and collects in organs and tissues. This helps the radiologist see certain areas more clearly.
After the body absorbs the medical isotope, the patient will lie on a narrow table that slides into a large tunnel-shaped scanner.
Those isotopes are shipped to this province from a facility in Chaulk River, Ont.
But with the installation of the Cyclotron, medical isotopes can now be produced in this province. This will eliminate the delays in transporting the isotopes, which in turn causes delays with patient care. Also, it is expensive to transport the isotopes from Ontario.
Because the shelf life of isotopes is so short, many that are delayed in transit would be unusable as they have been reduced to half-life.
“Adding this equipment has made us a leader in health care in this country,” Health Minister John Haggie said Tuesday.
“This is cutting-edge equipment, not just a tool, but a system. The isotopes made in this building will help with diagnosis assessment and make treatment more accurate,” he said.
Haggie said there are only about 30 PET/CT scanners in the country and general operating standards are one machine for one million people — nearly double the population of this province.
A PET scan is very different from an ultrasound, X-ray, MRI or CT scan. A PET scan allows the physician to distinguish between living and dead tissue or between benign and malignant disorders.
Since a PET scan images the biology of disorders at the molecular level, it can help the physician detect abnormalities in cellular activity at a very early stage, generally before anatomic changes are visible.
A CT scan is able to detect and localize changes in the body structure or anatomy, such as the size, shape and exact location of an abnormal growth, a sizeable tumour or a musculoskeletal injury.
Each of these imaging tests has particular benefits and limitations, but by combining these two state-of the-art technologies, physicians can more accurately diagnose, localize and monitor cancer, as well as heart disease and certain brain disorders.
The majority of PET/CT scans are performed for oncologic applications. Physicians utilize PET/CT scans for diagnosing, staging and evaluating treatments for their cancer patients.