Originally Released: October, 1998
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The University of Maryland Medical Center has opened the most technologically advanced all-digital nuclear medicine facility in the United States. Its combination of high-tech cameras and faster computers will help doctors diagnose and treat seriously ill patients faster and with more accuracy. The patient-friendly facility will serve as a prototype for 21st Century diagnostic radiology.
"With stunning clarity, the new state-of-the-art equipment produces dynamic images of organs such as the lungs, heart and kidneys as they function within the patient, leading to faster and more precise diagnoses," says Lawrence E. Holder, M.D., director of the Division of Nuclear Medicine and professor of radiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
"By using digital imaging and very fast computers, we not only see better but we can make exact measurements," Dr. Holder explains. "In addition to improving health by helping physicians decide what specific therapy patients should receive, modern nuclear medicine saves the patient and the insurer money by determining right away if there is a problem."
Nuclear imaging differs from X-ray and most other forms of radiology by taking real-time "pictures." Tiny amounts of radioactive tracers go to specific organs, bones, tissues or cancer cells, where they emit energy that is picked up on special cameras and then converted to visual images and quantitative data.
Diagnostic nuclear medicine is used for early detection of breast cancer and prostate cancer, to determine how well the heart can pump blood, to measure the spread of infection and to diagnose a variety of illness. Therapeutic radioisotopes can be used to treat certain thyroid problems, blood imbalances and pain from certain types of bone cancer.
Unlike traditional radiology, which provides high-resolution static pictures of the anatomy, nuclear medicine provides physicians with real-time moving images that allow them to view irregular heartbeats, airway or gastric obstructions, and kidney function in transplant recipients.
"Programs like this are a perfect example of the benefits of academic medicine," says Philip Templeton, M.D., chairman of Diagnostic Radiology and professor of radiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "We offer patients the expertise of physicians and researchers in different specialties under one roof, and we can do it with the most modern equipment and highest degree of safety."
Dr. Holder says, "There are no completely routine examinations performed in our department. Every patient seen in nuclear medicine is treated as a special individual with a unique problem requiring a specially designed examination in full consultation with the patient's physician."
The Medical Center earlier this year began converting to a "filmless X-ray" environment, storing all patient images by using computer technology. The new nuclear medicine facility integrates computerized nuclear medicine scans with the hospital's other high technology systems: the Radiology Picture Archiving and Communications System, the Hospital Information System for patient records and the Radiology Scheduling and Information System. Images are currently available throughout the hospital to physicians. Referring physicians soon will be able to access nuclear medicine images from their community offices via the Internet with a special code. "This allows referring physicians in their own offices to participate with us in the diagnosis of their patients," says Dr. Holder.
As part of the collaboration with corporate partner, SMV, University of Maryland physicians will evaluate the new generation of gamma cameras and the latest emerging nuclear medicine technologies.
Among the department's research interests are using the new equipment for coincidence detection imaging in the staging of cancer and the application of attenuation correction, a technique to make individual diagnoses more precise by compensating for anatomical differences from one patient to another.
The department also is launching clinical trials of new imaging drugs that may help in the diagnosis and treatment of colon cancer and in the more accurate diagnosis of blood clots in the lungs and legs.
As many as 12 million nuclear medicine imaging and therapeutic procedures are done each year in the United States.
"One of the elements that makes our program so noteworthy is that we attract students from all over the world who want to further their education as nuclear medicine physicians, technologists or scientists and that we can collaborate with a broad array of specialists in other branches of medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center," Dr. Holder says.
The marriage of nuclear imaging cameras with high-speed computers allows University of Maryland Medical Center physicians to make faster and more accurate diagnoses, including:
Detection of cancer of the endocrine system, lymphatic system, lung, colon, brain, breast and prostate.
Bone imaging to diagnose the cause of pain and manage pain following orthopedic surgery for trauma, prosthesis implantation for arthritis and limb salvage surgery for cancer.
Quantitative gastrointestinal imaging of solid and liquid meal emptying and transit.
Myocardial perfusion imaging to study diseases of the heart.
Quantitative ventilation and perfusion lung imaging to evaluate patients with emphysema, pulmonary hypertension or cancer.
Specialized dual isotope infection imaging with labeled white blood cells to detect infection.
Dynamic kidney imaging to assess renal function, evaluate transplant recipients and detect renovascular hypertension.
Tomographic brain perfusion imaging to evaluate cerebral vascular disease, epilepsy, dementia, psychiatric disorders and post-traumatic brain syndrome.
The University of Maryland Medical System is a private not for profit hospital system with 747 licensed beds at its downtown campus, which provides a complete range of inpatient and outpatient services to more than 225,000 patients a year. Components of the Medical System include University Hospital, the Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, Maryland's Hospital for Children, the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, University Postacute Services and Kernan and Deaton Hospitals.
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