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Enhancing Radiation Safety
October 29, 2010   
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The Andrzej So速an Institute for Nuclear Studies in 安ierk near Warsaw has built the prototype of an ionization chamber designed for use in nuclear medicine laboratories. The device makes it possible to precisely determine the activity of radiopharmaceuticals before they are administered to patients.

The Andrzej So速an Institute for Nuclear Studies in 安ierk near Warsaw has built the prototype of an ionization chamber designed for use in nuclear medicine laboratories. The device makes it possible to precisely determine the activity of radiopharmaceuticals before they are administered to patients.

The ionization chamber detects gamma radiation emitted by samples. “The results are highly reliable and enable physicians to precisely choose the optimum dose of a radiopharmaceutical right before the patient receives it,” says Zbigniew Sienkiewicz from the institute’s Nuclear Equipment Department. “Devices of this kind, designed to work in hospitals and specialist clinics, have not been produced in Poland up to now.”

The radioactivity of substances used in nuclear medicine is measured in ionization chambers at isotope laboratories. As they pass through an ionization chamber, gamma rays ionize gas in the chamber triggering the flow of electric current between electrodes inside the device. The amperage can be then easily recalculated to determine the isotope activity of the examined sample.

Radiopharmaceuticals are commonly used in nuclear medicine for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. Each radiopharmaceutical consists of a radioactive isotope of an appropriate element and a ligand, which is a chemical compound picked specifically to deliver the isotope to the desired organ in the patient’s body. Using scintillation counters detecting radiation emitted during the decay of atomic nuclei, it is possible to trace the isotope in the patient and thus see how well the patient’s organs work.

Optimal dosage

Radiopharmaceutical safety is strictly dependent on the type of isotope and the dosage. Doses should be optimally adjusted to minimize the negative effects of radiation and make sure that the measuring equipment can detect sites where the isotope accumulates. For safety reasons, isotopes used in nuclear medicine have short half-lives, which usually last several hours. Because of this, radiation produced by a radiopharmaceutical delivered to a lab in the morning is more intense than when the substance is introduced into the patient’s body several hours later. In order to compensate for that, the amount of the radiopharmaceutical per dose has to be increased accordingly.

The ionization chamber built at the Institute for Nuclear Studies does not need to be connected to an external power supply, as it is fitted with batteries. The device is constantly in standby mode and activates automatically only when a radiopharmaceutical is placed inside. Consequently, one set of batteries can last three to five years. The design is simple and since the chamber works at a low voltage, it is safe and reliable, the researchers say.
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