Medical Center Brings First Permanent PET/CT Facility to Region

Scanner to Help Improve Cancer Diagnoses and Facilitate Research

June 02, 2005

"By merging the two technologies, we have exponentially improved our ability to understand what’s happening in the body, and exactly where it is happening."

When the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) opens University Imaging at Science Park at the end of June, it will create a diagnostic imaging and research facility that will improve diagnosis and treatment of cancer, help to discover new methods for treating other serious diseases, and generate new jobs in the city of Rochester. 

A collaborative effort between URMC’s Department of Imaging Sciences (formerly the Department of Radiology) and Cardinal Health, an Ohio-based company specializing in nuclear pharmacy services, the facility houses a state-of-the-art PET/CT scanner, as well as the region’s first cyclotron unit and accompanying pharmacy. Borg Imaging will be involved in the effort, providing scan interpretation two days a week. 

Collectively, the facility and equipment is valued at $7.5 million, and the two sites are expected to create more than 25 new jobs.  Expansion plans are already on the drawing board, with the Medical Center preparing to add the region’s first 3-Tesla MRI machine to the facility in early 2006. 

“As demand for PET scans increased over the past few years, it was critically important that we take a leadership role in making certain Rochester residents have convenient access to the latest technology,” said C. McCollister Evarts, M.D., CEO, University of Rochester Medical Center and Strong Health. “Now, this state-of-the-art equipment at University Imaging at Science Park will keep pace with the medical demand for advanced imaging technology.”

According to David Waldman, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Imaging Sciences at the University of Rochester Medical Center, PET scans have become the gold standard physicians use to diagnose and treat cancer.  Recently, the PET technology has been made more powerful by adding a CT component to the machine. 

“PET scans on their own help physicians pinpoint physiological processes taking place inside the human body, while CT scans help us map out the precise location of the disease,” Waldman said.  “By merging the two technologies, we have exponentially improved our ability to understand what’s happening in the body, and exactly where it is happening. We are proud to make this technology available to the Rochester region in a convenient facility, and are excited about the research potential the facility holds as well.”

Vaseem Chengazi, M.D., Ph.D., and John Strang, M.D., will be co-directors of the new facility.

Beyond Cancer

Less than five years ago, PET, or Positron Emission Tomography, was just becoming a mainstream tool to help accurately diagnose and treat various forms of cancer.  As its usage increased, PET scans quickly became an integral component in accurately staging cancer and tracking the progress of chemotherapy or radiation treatments.  PET scans’ effectiveness are borne out by the numbers.  According to Bio-Tech Systems Inc, a healthcare market research company, in 2001 approximately 258,000 PET scans were performed.  By 2003, that number had jumped to 650,000, with estimates of 2.1 million scans by 2010.  The Department of Imaging Sciences experienced a similar demand for PET scans, and projects that it will perform close to 2,000 scans annually in the new facility. 

While PET scans initially gained popularity among oncologists, more and more groups of specialists are beginning to use PET scans for other serious conditions, most notably neurologists (Alzheimer’s) and cardiologists (myocardial viability and other cardiac diseases).  University Imaging at Science Park will therefore reserve one day a week for research-related work. 

“Researchers and physicians are increasingly turning to PET technology to comprehend the cell mechanisms that lead to other serious diseases,” Waldman said. “Unlike any other imaging technology, PET scans allow physicians to see and track specific bodily processes, giving a bonanza of information to scientists seeking better understanding of how disease manifests itself in the cell and progresses throughout the body.”

Already, URMC Alzheimer’s specialists are planning to use the PET/CT facility for an upcoming NIH initiative studying the course of Alzheimer’s.  And radiologists plan to work on the development of radio-pharmaceuticals to aid in the detection and tracing of other diseases.  Their research is made possible in part by the close proximity of Cardinal Health’s cyclotron unit, which produces the radiopharmaceuticals used in PET scans. 

About the PET/CT Scanner

The new scanner at University Imaging at Science Park is a Gemini GXL made by Philips, and is only the third of its kind installed worldwide.  The machine is configured so that PET and CT studies can be independently conducted if necessary; the CT portion has a 16-slice capacity. Other benefits of the machine include:

  • An open design to decrease the claustrophobic effect often associated with long-tunneled machines. 
  • Ability to image the entire body with both PET and CT scans in one pass-through, decreasing patient time on the machine. 
  • Quick turnaround on results. The computer will start reconstructing and merging data in real-time. 

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Germaine Reinhardt
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