ASRT keynote looks at molecular imaging's future

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Molecular imaging of the future must “build a bridge” between biology and radiology to advance medicine as a whole, not just radiology, said Sanjiv Sam Gambhir, M.D., Ph.D., director of the molecular imaging program at Stanford University. He provided the keynote last week in Denver at the World Congress of the International Society of Radiographers and Radiological Technologists and the Annual Conference of the American Society of Radiologic Technologists and the Association of Educators in Imaging and Radiologic Sciences Inc.

“We need to use clinical imaging techniques to study cells while they are still in a living animal or a living human,” said Gambhir during his speech titled Medicine’s Incredible Future. “If imaging is going to get at earlier diagnosis and management of disease, we have to study cells and how they can lead to disease when something goes wrong. Then we can intervene much earlier.

“As fancy as our pictures have gotten, they are still at a level that’s not appropriate for really understanding what’s going on in the human body. We can see the structure of bones and organs, and some physiology such as the beating heart, but that’s not really getting to the root of how the body functions,” Gambhir said.

Molecular imaging can be so powerful, it is comparable to sending “molecular spies into the body” which send back reports about what is there. But these reports are not just descriptions of the anatomy, but rather “images a specific protein or cell type or messenger RNA that is causing a problem within the body,” he said.

The real trouble with conventional imaging is that it is not nearly specific enough, he said. However he made it clear that convention imaging is still necessary to determine needed special information to determine where things are.

Gambhir said that many people associate molecular imaging with nuclear medicine, but it also has applications in magnetic resonance, ultrasound, optical imaging and other areas. “Probably the area with the greatest growth right now is optical imaging,” he said, along with microfluidics, split coil MR-PET and nanotechnology.

The ASRT meeting was host to more than 1,000 radiologic technologists from around the world. Its members are 82 medical imaging and radiation therapy societies in 68 countries, which together represent more than 300,000 individual RTs.