IMPROVING HUMAN HEALTH
Nuclear technologies are making sizeable contributions
in human health. Radio therapy, for example, is one
of the most effective cancer therapies known. Stable and radioactive isotopes are deepening our understanding of human biological
processes. Nuclear applications in nutrition are becoming potent weapons
for improving health among many communities of the developing world.
The cost-effectiveness of most nuclear technologies is high, and many
IAEA Member States have now established medical and health care programmes
involving nuclear tools.
Nutritional Foundations for Growth
Almost two billion people worldwide suffer from chronic
under nutrition due to a lack of essential protein, vitamins and minerals.
The results are poor growth, impaired mental development, low disease
resistance and reduced work capacity. Through nutrition projects in
more than 30 countries, the root causes of malnutrition are being explored,
providing data on nutrient requirements and testing sustainable interventions.
Developing countries are gaining access to nuclear-based tools that
are not only safe and easy to use, but also provide precise answers
that serve as a basis for sound nutrition improvement strategies.
Stable isotopes are
used to measure the special energy and protein needs of population groups,
such as farmers with high energy requirements, pregnant and lactating
women, and infants and children. Isotope techniques can also detect and help to devise better ways to treat the “hidden
hunger” of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, such as night blindness
cause by insufficient vitamin A and anaemia due to a lack of iron.
IN VITRO DIAGNOSIS – THE RIA ADVANTAGE
One achievement has been in transferring radioimmunoassay (RIA) in vitro diagnostic technology to developing
countries. RIA uses radioisotopes and antibodies to measure biochemicals
in the blood, and allows the fast and accurate diagnoses of conditions
such as hepatitis, insufficient growth hormone and hypothyroidism. Some
RIAs can even detect “tumour marker molecules” of certain
types of cancers.
INVIVO DIAGNOSIS –THE INSIGHT OF SPECT
Some body organs absorb certain chemicals more readily
than others; thus a radiopharmaceutical can be “tailored”
to target a certain organ. Inside the body, the chemical can be detected
by a gamma camera, and multiple images for doctors can be assembled
into a 3-D image on a computer screen. This technique, called ‘single
photon emission computed tomography’ (SPECT), allows
clinicians to detect and treat abnormalities, often long before changes
can be revealed through other tests.
SPECT is being used in many countries to improve the diagnoses of Alzheimer’s
and Parkinson’s diseases, cerebrovascular disease and even trauma.
REDUCING THE COST OF TECHNOLOGY
Radiopharmaceuticals to relieve pain
in those suffering from bone diseases are being optimised. Current treatment
uses Strontium-89, which not only relieves pain but may also reduce
new pain sites. But Strontium-89 is expensive, and so two other radiopharmaceuticals,
Phosphorus-32 and Samarium-153, which cost one-fifth of the amount,
are being investigated through trials in Asia, Central Europe and Latin
Better Odds in Cancer Care
There has been a dramatic increase in cancer cases
worldwide, especially in industrialised nations. The number of new cases
is expected to climb to 15-million by the year 2015, and roughly two
thirds will occur in the developing countries, where the average life
span is quickly increasing.
About half of all cancer patients today receive radiotherapy as part of their treatment. Radiotherapy, combined with surgery, and
to a lesser extent, chemotherapy, will remain the most important curative
treatment for most cancer tumours, with radiotherapy used in up to 60
percent of all patients in some countries.
Thanks to improved therapies, most cancers can be cured if detected
Environmentally friendly Sterilisation
Commercial sterilisation of medical products using gamma rays began in the United States
in 1956. Today, millions of tonnes of one-time use products, ranging
from scalpels to syringes, are being sterilised in more than 200 facilities
in 50 countries. Radiation kills disease-producing
bacteria without leaving a residue. Penetrating radiation allows products
to be sterilised on-line, in bulk and in their final packaging. Irradiated
products are not radioactive, and they can be used straight from the
Most importantly, radiation is environmentally friendly.
Heat sterilisation is very energy-intensive and many products cannot
withstand the high temperatures. Ethylene oxide gas (EtO) sterilisation
may leave behind carcinogenic residues and requires a nine-week quarantine
period. A sterility test is also required after heat and EtO sterilisation
to confirm their effectiveness.
In Europe, radiation is used to treat about 50 percent
of the total disposable medical products and its use will expand to
a large extent in many IAEA Member States in the near future. The possibilities
for sterilising hospital waste using radiation are also being investigated.
Human tissue is an important medical resource. If tissue is lost from
the body as a result of burns or an accident, surgeons can often repair
the damage if human tissue is available. But grafts must be sterile
to avoid cross-infection. The safest, most reliable way of sterilising
human tissue is gamma irradiation. It also allows tissue to be sterilised
in a pre-packed form, safeguarding patient health.
Radiation can immobilise bioactive
materials such as drugs and hormones on polymers. This property is employed
in some new drug-delivery systems, including an eye insert that releases
medicine to combat glaucoma and an implant that controls the release
of prostaglandin for the treatment of ulcers. The use of irradiated polymers to prepare “smart” systems that
will actually link sensors to drug delivery is also being investigated.
This could revolutionise the treatment of diabetes in millions of sufferers.