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ARASIA and IAEA Host Simultaneous Regional Training Courses to Enhance Cancer Care


Course participants observe the production and quality control of radiopharmaceuticals at the AUB cyclotron. (Photo: L. Eid/IAEA)

To address the growing cancer burden in Arab States, the IAEA is supporting capacity development in ARASIA States Parties in the areas of nuclear medicine, radiation oncology and in the production of radiopharmaceuticals. From 21 to 25 November, two simultaneous regional training courses were held at the American University of Beirut (AUB) - recently designated an ARASIA Regional Resource Centre - to build capacity in hybrid imaging techniques and in the production and quality control of radiopharmaceuticals, respectively.

Through the Cooperative Agreement for Arab States in Asia for Research, Development and Training related to Nuclear Science and Technology (ARASIA), the IAEA has a long history of helping to enhance the capacities of Arab countries in the early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancers: by organizing regional and national workshops, working closely with Ministries of Health, scientific organizations and civil society, and helping to procure laboratory consumables and critical equipment.

The training courses, organized under ARASIA, were implemented in the context of an ongoing, regional technical cooperation (TC) project. In total, the courses were attended by 27 participants from seven ARASIA State Parties: Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Syria and Yemen.

The first course focused on the use of hybrid imaging for the management of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and brought together 16 participants from seven ARASIA countries. The week-long course focused on training the participants on various nuclear medicine techniques used in the diagnosis and treatment of non-communicable diseases, including oncology, cardiology and neurology. It explored their varying clinical utility and relative value, emphasizing the protocols used in each of these conditions.

Interactive discussions during the course covered approaches in diagnostic and therapeutic nuclear medicine procedures, including both established PET/CT hybrid approaches and novel techniques using new imaging agents, such as the Prostate-Specific Membrane Antigen (PSMA) and gallium-68 DOTATATE. Enrique Estrada, an IAEA nuclear medicine physician, explained that the training course also offered participants the opportunity to explore the possible future introduction of targeted radionuclide therapies, including immunotherapy, into clinical practice in the seven participating countries.

“Close collaboration between the IAEA and ARASIA with the AUB’s Medical Centre, a Regional Resource Centre, will help us to carry forth the vision and mission of the IAEA and ARASIA in the region and the Arab world –the implementation of new procedures in nuclear medicine and leadership in education,” said Dr Mohammad Haidar, Director of Nuclear Medicine Division and Cyclotron facility at the American University of Beirut’s Medical Centre.

Participants of the two training courses receive official certificates from the IAEA. (Photo: American University of Beirut)  

The second regional training course focused on the production and quality control of an important group of medicines used in positron emission tomography (PET), known as F-18 radiopharmaceuticals. These radioactive medicines are injected into patients with various cancers, and are used for diagnosis, follow-up of treatment and monitoring.

The course gathered 11 participants from six ARASIA State Parties to learn about state-of-the-art production, quality control (QC) and clinical applications of such radiopharmaceuticals, with a focus on F-18 FDG, F-18 Choline and F-18 FDOPA. The participants were also introduced to a recent IAEA publication relevant to the course topic.

Amir Jalilian, an IAEA radioisotope and radiopharmaceutical chemist, highlighted that participants had the chance to learn about the status and recent advances of F-18 radioisotope production, as well as the production of selected F-18 radiopharmaceuticals, including their application and quality control in countries participating in the regional IAEA technical cooperation (TC). Procedures for the production and quality control of these radiopharmaceuticals, radiation protection and dosimetry were reviewed.

“The training course on Production and Quality Control of F-18 radiopharmaceuticals also supports the implementation of novel, updated techniques in nuclear medicine, which in turn will help to facilitate the establishment of basic science research in the region, as up-to-date production of radiopharmaceuticals is necessary for proper research capabilities,” explained Marina Mishar, from the IAEA Technical Cooperation Division for Asia and the Pacific. “These updated techniques are also important for the provision of high quality healthcare services and the education of the next generation on quality control standards and subsequent quality production of radiopharmaceuticals.”

Dr Haider confirmed that the American University of Beirut’s Medical Centre will begin the production of three new radiotracers in 2023.

Both courses included a hands-on learning component, which involved visits and tours of the cyclotron facility at AUBMC and other nuclear medicine related facilities. Time was also set aside for participants to join the 2nd Congress of the Arab Society for Nuclear Medicine—taking place at the same time in Beirut, beginning on 23 November—and to attend scientific sessions. The Congress brought together more than 600 participants from 52 countries.

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