Nuclear Medicine can be defined as the application of radioactive materials to the diagnosis and treatment of patients and the study of disease.
The strength of nuclear medicine lies in the use of radioactive tracers to study function rather than structure, since biochemical and functional changes occur in disease before structural changes can be identified. The techniques are non-invasive, requiring in most instances no more than an intravenous injection. The radiation dose is similar to, and often far less than, that given in an equivalent radiological procedure.
The Nuclear Medicine service for NHS Tayside is based at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, with a satellite unit at Perth Royal Infirmary and conducts approximately 7000 investigations each year. The majority are imaging studies, where an image of the distribution of a radioactive pharmaceutical in the patient is obtained using a gamma camera. Some of the most common tests are bone scans to detect metastases or osteomyelitis, myocardial scans to evaluate heart function and brain scans to diagnose dementia and Parkinson's disease.
The department has 4 modern gamma cameras, 3 at Ninewells and 1 at PRI. Several of the cameras have Single Photon Emission Tomography (SPECT) capability and can use X-ray CT for attenuation correction and localisation. A PET/CT service has recently been introduced at the Clinical Research Centre at Ninewells, which using a state of the art scanner can give valuable information for diagnosis and planning of patient treatment.
Non-imaging exams involve sampling the patient's blood or breath to determine the clearance of the radiopharmaceutical from the patient. Commonly requested exams include the C-14 breath test for presence of H. Pylori and measurement of renal function using Cr-51 EDTA. The department also administers therapeutic doses of radioisotopes, mainly I-131 for thyrotoxicosis and thyroid remnant ablation and Sr-89 for pain relief in metastatic bone cancer.
The department is staffed in part by Medical Physicists, who in addition to their Nuclear Medicine duties provide information and advice on radioisotopes to Ninewells Medical School and NHS Tayside. They are also involved with the department's documentation and disposal of all radioactive waste from the Ninewells Hospital and Medical School complex.