African Radiopharmacists Put New Skills to Use

Radiopharmaceuticals are a key component of nuclear medicine, and are crucial to fighting cancer and several other medical conditions. Their use, however, requires extensive personnel training on patient safety and equipment handling. Thanks to a recent IAEA training course, radiopharmacists from across Africa have acquired new skills and knowledge in this area and have since shared what they learned with their co-workers back home.

I now feel more confident and more equipped to help my organization develop the in-house production of radiopharmaceuticals, said Aiboud Abdelmjid, a radiopharmacist at the National Centre for Nuclear Energy and Technology in Morocco, who attended the IAEA's first comprehensive radiopharmacy training for young professionals from across Africa. I am able to plan a more effective strategy for the production of radiopharmaceuticals in accordance with the latest development and standards in the industry.

The training course also covered both the theoretical and practical aspects of radiopharmacy, with lectures on basic science and demonstrations of the most commonly used diagnostic nuclear imaging techniques, single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and positron emission tomography (PET).

Although all subjects and areas of the course were informative, I was particularly interested about quality management systems governing the safe production and application of radiopharmaceuticals, said Grace Njiru from the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya. I have been applying most of what I learned from the course at work, and I will be sharing this information with colleagues in various setups including continuous medical education, conferences and symposia.

The IAEA-sponsored training course took place from January to March at Goce Delcev University in Stip and the University Institute for Positron Emission Tomography in Skopje of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. In addition to the experienced staff at Goce Delcev University and IAEA experts, the instructors and lecturers included radiopharmacy professors and practitioners from universities and laboratories across Europe.

To ensure accurate diagnosis, optimal treatment and patient safety, radiopharmaceuticals need to be of required quality, said Emilija Janevik, professor of medical sciences at Goce Delcev University and the main coordinator of the training programme. To avoid errors in final specifications of the radiopharmaceutical produced, the radiopharmacist must undergo a systematic and comprehensive training.

At the end of the course, participants were assessed and received certifications. In addition, the IAEA has asked participants to conduct gap analyses of the radiopharmacy practices in their own countries, indicating any additional hardware and training requirements they will need to ensure better practices. This data will help formulate the next phase of the IAEA's programme support aiming to strengthen radiopharmacy in Africa.

Radiopharmaceuticals

Radiopharmaceuticals are medical drugs that contain small amounts of radioactive substances called radioisotopes. Radioisotopes are atoms that emit radiation. The radioisotopes used in radiopharmaceuticals can be produced by irradiating a specific target inside a nuclear research reactor or in particle accelerators, such as cyclotrons. Once produced, the radioisotopes are tagged on to certain molecules based on biological characteristics, which then result in radiopharmaceuticals.

When radiopharmaceuticals are taken into the body, they interact with certain tissues or organs. A special detector, such as a gamma camera, outside the body can detect the small amounts of radiation emitted from the organ or tissue. The camera is then able to translate the information into images of the specific tissue or organ. By using radiopharmaceuticals, doctors can get accurate medical images revealing key details about the organ or tissue as well as the functioning of organs such as heart, kidneys, liver, among others.

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency

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