Kirill Shalyaev

The Future of nuclear medicine: Driving value in expanded clinical use

June 30, 2017
By Kees Wesdorp and Kirill Shalyaev

Value. It’s both a concept and goal that is driving our health care industry forward today, putting emphasis on more personalized care delivery, improved patient outcomes and reduced costs.

It’s also advancing nuclear medicine imaging modalities that have a long history of providing clinicians unique views into their patients’ cellular and molecular levels, driving earlier diagnoses. Current innovation is bringing unprecedented specificity and sensitivity to molecular imaging, resulting in many benefits.

With value-based care changing the way health care organizations approach care delivery, there is a greater need for easy to use, fast and precise imaging. And with expanding access to data, clinicians are looking for ways to make that data actionable, whether in their own workflow or for customizing treatment for a patient. Molecular imaging accomplishes that, allowing physicians to make decisions based on the specific molecular and cellular patterns of disease in addition to the patient’s anatomy. For example, being able to determine the exact measurements of a tumor versus just having a visual interpretation of its size can translate to better outcomes. Physicians have already begun to look at molecular imaging technologies as more than just scanners, but as solutions that have a broader impact on patient care and the industry at various stages along the health care continuum.

As health care organizations more fully shift to value-based care in the coming years, nuclear medicine and molecular imaging will continue to see expanded use to provide more personalized care. Over the next five years, we can expect:

Innovations that provide greater detail and accuracy. Advancements in imaging technology, such as digital PET/CT and CZT-based SPECT, will drive better lesion detectability, quantitative accuracy and lower dose. Digital PET/CT will bring the Time-of-Flight PET imaging to the next level of performance in clinical sensitivity, volumetric resolution and quantification as the clinical community aspires to see the disease states earlier and monitor therapy effectiveness better than before. We do expect that PET/CT, with its high sensitivity and specificity, will continue to grow rapidly and play an increasingly important role among the diagnostic imaging modalities.

Emergence of new radiopharmaceuticals. As technology evolves, new radiotracers are developed and approved, opening doors to new applications in both clinical and academic capacities. While radiotracers have a number of barriers to overcome before they come to market for use, they are greatly improving the ways in which molecular imaging can be used. Molecular imaging technology is already well established in current clinical applications, like oncology and cardiology, but we are seeing growth in areas such as neurology and new oncology applications as new molecules and imaging agents are identified. Advancements in imaging technology, in turn, will open additional possibilities for new radiopharmaceuticals to emerge.

Kees Wesdorp
Improved integration within the broader health continuum. With an aging population and the continuing rise in multiple chronic and complex diseases, molecular imaging’s high detail and qualitative results will play a key role in transforming population health. Population health management requires more integrated and interdisciplinary approaches, and as clinicians look to implement more preemptive and definitive treatment programs, they will require access to integrated, comprehensive data on the patient’s diagnostic history, not just an image.

Nuclear medicine and molecular imaging will continue to advance and develop as an integral part of radiology and diagnostic imaging, expanding to bring physicians one step closer to personalized care. Despite its significant growth in past years, the opportunity for further innovation and growth remains, continuing to maximize nuclear medicine’s value and impact.

About the authors: Kees Wesdorp, Ph.D., is the business group leader, Diagnostic Imaging at Philips. Kirill Shalyaev, Ph.D., is the business leader, Advanced Molecular Imaging at Philips.