The Dawn of a New Era in Medicine

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The practice of medicine is entering a revolutionary new era, with radiology poised to serve as a driving force behind molecular imaging techniques that will produce radical advances in treatment. Partnerships have formed between physical, biological and medical sciences to develop innovative approaches to molecular diagnostics and therapeutics.

Michael E. Phelps, PhD, the Norton Simon Professor and chairman of the Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology at the University of California at Los Angeles, co-inventor of the positron emission tomography (PET) scanner, delivered a creative and realistic vision of the future of medicine in the Eugene P. Pendergrass New Horizons Lecture at RSNA this year.

Describing collaborative efforts between medical imaging, pharmacology, biology, genetics, biotechnology, systems biology, diagnostics and nanotechnology as the basis for new directions in diagnosis and treatment, Phelps explained that the stage has been set for scientists to understand the molecular basis of many disease processes from cancer to Alzheimer's Disease. Combined molecular and structural imaging techniques - that include PET, MR and CT as well as optical imaging - will guide the discovery of new therapeutics and assessment of the efficacy of those approaches.

Phelps described the rapid acceptance of PET to the point where it now provides a positive diagnostic test for Alzheimer's and other dementias that is reimbursed by Medicare. It also serves as a valuable adjunct to conventional anatomic imaging in the diagnosis, staging, detection of recurrent disease and evaluation of response to therapy in 12 different types of cancer, and he asserts that a number of published studies have revealed that PET has changed the way many patients are treated.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are being expended in the development of these new technologies including enhancements in imaging equipment such as microPET, hybrid imaging scanners that combine CT and PET, and exploration of new methods of understanding and then treating diseases. The pharmacologic industry recognizes the critical role of imaging techniques in the evaluation of specifically targeted treatment.

Besides describing his vision of the future, Phelps encouraged radiologists to embrace their role in guiding these new directions in medicine. Entering collaborations between all of these disciplines will afford radiologists a leadership role in creating the promising future of diagnostic and therapeutic techniques.