Monthly Archives: December 2015


Radiopharmaceuticals and Disease Diagnosis

Nuclear medicine, already well-established in cancer diagnostics and treatment, has started to play a role in other diseases, like Alzheimer’s.

Doctors are using medications that contain radioactive materials so they can get an inside look at how your body operates. Patients receive these radiopharmaceuticals by injection, or by inhaling or swallowing the medication.


As oncologist Sandy McEwan explains, “It circulates and binds at the site of the target and then we measure the distribution of the injection in space or time to understand what changes or functions are occurring.”

Dr. McEwan is a professor and chair of the department of oncology at the University of Alberta’s Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton. He is also a member of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the independent nuclear regulator.

Dr. McEwan says advances in nuclear medicine are growing thanks to strong and active research and development.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the use of radiopharmaceuticals to help evaluate patients for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Advances are also being made in other areas such as cancer behaviours, according to Dr. McEwan.

“Tumors tend to use more glucose or sugar than regular cells,” Dr. McEwan says. “Using radiopharmaceuticals, doctors can measure how much glucose is being used by a tumor. The more sugar used by the cancerous cell, the worse the tumor is.”

These new medicines aren’t just used for diagnoses. Their very nature allows doctors to tailor them to individual patients.

“It’s personalized medicine,” says Dr. McEwan. “The right dose of the right drug, at the right time, for the right patient.”


Peeling Back the History of Paintings

McMaster University’s new exhibition, The Unvarnished Truth, highlights the role that nuclear technology plays in exploring the history behind paintings. The exhibition features nine paintings, including works by Van Gogh and Reubens. And art experts are using radiography to explore the paintings’ secrets.


McMaster researcher Brandi Lee MacDonald points to a painting attributed to Peter Paul Reubens. “We were able to tell that it was cut out of an early larger painting, so it leads us to question the history of this object,” she says. “What happened to the rest of it?”

MacDonald, who works in the McMaster’s Department of Applied Radiation Sciences, led the exhibition’s development, bringing together 30 researchers from across continents and disciplines. Over five years, they used a variety of techniques to look at nine paintings – especially the pigments within the paint and to see what is going on beyond the canvas.

“One of the art historians identified the sitter in one of the portraits. Finding out who this person was is rare,” says McMaster professor Fiona McNeill, a member of the research team.

In one example, using a neutron beam, the team inspected the wood beneath the painting, discovering damage and gaining knowledge that will help curators to repair and care for the painting.

“For the Van Gogh painting, there is a different painting underneath the original layer,” says MacDonald. “He is famous for recycling his canvases to save money, and we were able to see features of a previous painting underneath.”

The exhibition will remain at the McMaster Museum of Art in Hamilton, Ontario until December 19th From there, it moves next spring to Edmonton, then to Thunder Bay next fall before concluding its tour in early 2017 in Kingston, Ontario.


Nuclear Fun Fact: Bert Brockhouse