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Nuclear Techniques in Human Health: Scientific Forum Opens


King Letsie III of Lesotho spoke at the opening session of the IAEA Scientific Forum entitled Nuclear Techniques in Human Health: Prevention, Diagnosis, Treatment. (Photo: F. Nassif/IAEA)

The use of nuclear techniques in human health helps to save millions of lives every year and the IAEA works with national governments to increase countries’ expertise in radiotherapy, nuclear medicine and the use of isotopic techniques in nutrition, said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano at the opening of the 2017 Scientific Forum today.

“Cancer and cardiovascular conditions are the leading causes of death in the world, accounting for 26.5 million of the 56.4 million deaths recorded in 2015,” he said. “Nuclear techniques make a real difference in these areas.”

He spoke of the gap between developed and developing countries in access to nuclear technology for medical diagnosis and treatment, and the IAEA’s role in narrowing that gap.

“The enormous benefits of nuclear technology for human health are clear. However, many developing countries lack both equipment and the trained medical and technical experts needed to make full use of the latest nuclear techniques. The IAEA is working to change that.”

Held over two days during the IAEA General Conference, the Scientific Forum this year is showcasing how nuclear techniques are used in the prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment of major diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular conditions. Senior officials, leading experts and academics will review the important contribution of nuclear technology to human health and how these techniques can support countries’ efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 3: to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

The livestream of the Scientific Forum is available via this link. See a short video and our series of Impact Stories on how the IAEA supports development, including in health, around the world. Follow and use #Health on Twitter to get updates and join the discussion on the Scientific Forum.

Opening session

Cancer is the second highest cause of death globally, and its greatest impact increasingly falls on developing countries, said King Letsie III of Lesotho. “The work that the IAEA is undertaking in the diagnosis and treatment of a myriad of diseases, in particular cancer, is unparalleled.”

When it comes to infectious diseases in an increasingly globalized world where diseases know no borders, international cooperation is vital, he said. “The response by various international agencies, including the IAEA, to the recent outbreaks of Ebola, the zika virus and cholera is a testimony to what can be achieved through collective action by all relevant stakeholders.” (Read more here on the use of nuclear-derived techniques in the rapid and accurate diagnosis of several infectious diseases.)

King Letsie also spoke of the importance of proper nutrition, an area in which nuclear science makes a contribution by helping professionals assess nutrition levels and combat malnutrition. “It would only be proper for governments to allocate significant proportions of their budgets to programmes that will enhance nutrition in order to reverse all the adverse effects of malnutrition and at the same time improve the prospects for higher economic growth.”

Cancer is on the rise in Africa, and many countries on the continent do not have the means to deal with it, said Madeleine Tchuinte, Minister of Scientific Research and Innovation of Cameroon. “Late diagnosis and lack of treatment are the causes of death,” she said. Many countries do not have the means to offer radiological treatment. “African countries do not have the appropriate material and human resources to meet even part of the needs,” she said. “Governments need to put a higher priority on fighting cancer. We also need to bring in funds from the private sector via public-private partnerships.”

Nuclear medicine and radiation therapy are some of the priorities for nuclear science in Russia, said Veronika Skvortsova, the country’s Minister of Health. Russia’s framework to develop nuclear medicine and radiation by 2020 prioritizes the implementation of new technologies, safety and access throughout the country. “We will use only the most effective and innovative technologies and develop next generation pharmaceuticals,” she said. 

Ageing and increasing obesity are leading to more cases of cancer in developing countries and the best way to combat the disease is through early detection, said Eric Ulloa, Panama’s Vice Minister of Health. “More than 90% of patients diagnosed with breast cancer early survive, compared to only 50% for women diagnosed late,” he highlighted. Nuclear medicine plays an increasing role in early detection in many developing countries, but having the right equipment is not sufficient. “Capacity building [of medical staff] is still a challenge for many countries, and it should be prioritized.”

Detlev Ganten, Founder of the World Health Summit, spoke of the joint responsibility of scientists and politicians to make sure science delivers benefits to all. “Less than 25% of people benefit from the fast progress of science,” he said. “It is only thanks to international organizations and non-governmental organizations that we can bring this progress to people around the world.” The M8 Alliance, in which 25 major academic health centres work together to translate cutting edge science into public health, as well as the IAEA, play a leading role in spreading the benefits of science in health care, he said.

Overview of sessions

Preventing disease through better nutrition

The first session will highlight how nuclear and isotopic techniques help combat undernutrition and obesity and are used to monitor the impact of environmental factors, such as toxins and poor sanitation, on child growth.

Looking beyond the visible: New frontiers in diagnostic techniques

The second session will present cutting-edge nuclear applications to identify non-communicable diseases in their early stages, and the growing role of these technologies in the early detection of infectious and neurological diseases.

Addressing implementation challenges in countries

The third session will will review the impact of new medical technologies on national health budgets, and at countries’ different needs in these areas.

Radiotherapy – Saving and improving quality of life of cancer patients through new approaches

The fourth session, to be held tomorrow morning of 19 September, will look at the future of radiotherapy, including personalized treatment and technological innovations to improve patient care.

Ensuring quality and safety

The fifth session will focus on quality assurance programmes, clinical audits and performance quantification methods to ensure that patients get the best possible treatment outcome.

The Future of Nuclear Techniques in Human Health: A Global Prospective

In the closing session, senior policymakers from around the world will explore major trends in the use of nuclear techniques in health care and the future outlook of the sector. Director General Amano will also be present at this session.

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