Distinguished Guests, Delegates, dear Colleagues,
I am delighted to welcome you to Vienna and to this Conference on Quality Assurance and New Techniques in Radiation Medicine.
Let me say how pleased I am to see such a large number of delegates here: almost 600 delegates have registered, representing 95 Member States and 16 international organizations. I am sure that this high level of interest truly reflects the important role of quality assurance in radiation medicine.
The field of radiation medicine includes both radiation imaging (diagnostic radiology and nuclear medicine) and treatment. The world has seen some dramatic advances in the last thirty years with the advent of Computerized Tomography (CT), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and Positron Emission Tomography (PET). These advances in imaging have enabled advances in radiation therapy, particularly making it more precise and leading to a greater emphasis on treating patients with curative intent. I am sure that the opening plenary session this morning, entitled Looking to the Future will bring all these developments into focus for you.
Quality Assurance is a tool to establish confidence in technology, in this case radiation medicine. A robust QA system ensures that the technology is being used safely and effectively at the technical level and it enables management to be confident in assuring patients that radiation will be used to their benefit. I welcome the collaboration of our colleagues in radiation safety, particularly in the sessions on diagnostic radiology. Reducing the dose to patients and thereby decreasing their risk of harm caused by ionising radiation continues to drive developments in this field. The role of medical physicists in implementing safety standards at the hospital level is certainly a critical component of QA programmes in radiation medicine. Medical physics research may lead to substantial reductions in dose whilst maintaining or hopefully improving image quality.
New technologies represent advances - better ways to diagnose and treat patients. For example, PET yields functional information that helps in the staging, planning and monitoring the treatment of cancer patients. In the case of cardiovascular disease, combined information from hybrid PET-CT systems allows the assessment of coronary artery disease at its very early stages when the intricate structural and molecular information at the cellular level permits individual risk assessment of possible severe myocardial events. The additional information from PET scans will lead to better informed patient management and may bring an economic benefit by providing a basis to rationalise treatment decisions. Nevertheless, acquiring new technology can be expensive, not only in the costs of the equipment, but also in terms of the improved infrastructure and training of human resources needed to support it. Since there will never be an over abundance of resources to support acquiring new technology, and particularly so in developing countries, assessing the impact must be done from a broad perspective. It is the plenary session #3 on Tuesday afternoon entitled, Technology Relevant to the Needs where you will have the opportunity to explore and debate this aspect. This looks to be a very interesting session. I am particularly glad that my colleagues in the Department of Technical Cooperation have taken the lead in organizing this session.
You have a challenging programme this week, thanks to the diligence of the scientific committee. The time and effort that they have spent to help create this programme will, I am sure, be well rewarded.
The collaboration of the fifteen co-sponsoring and co-operating organisations has helped to ensure that this meeting is truly international, consistent with the name of the IAEA itself. We particularly appreciate the financial support provided by our co-sponsoring organisations.
We are also grateful to the 16 companies whose generous voluntary contributions were used to support the travel of participants from developing countries to attend this conference. Without their financial commitment, we would not have been able to ensure the attendance of so many people, and also to foster interactions between industry and practitioners in radiation medicine. I encourage participants to visit the exhibits, learn about the new equipment and so have a better idea of what manufacturers now have to offer.
Scientific meetings take place all too often with little proactive attempt to create an impact on the strategic direction of the field. It is in the summary and recommendations of each session where you will have the chance to point to and influence future work in radiation medicine. Where are the gaps in our knowledge of the field of radiation medicine? How does creating a Quality Assurance culture enable us to adopt new innovations with confidence and safety? What should the priorities be, and so on? Please make your recommendations as broad as possible, but still within the confines of QA and Radiation Medicine. Recommendations do not necessarily have to be restricted to the work of the Agency. Where there are generic issues, we will incorporate those that fall within our mandate into our planning cycle. Other issues will be identified as a challenge to those in the field. I wish you success in this important exercise.
During the conference, we will have the opportunity to hear 120 speakers and to visit and discuss 140 posters. In order to create a record of all this intellectual activity, the intention is to prepare the Proceedings in the form of a CD-ROM. On your behalf I would like to thank the session chairs and staff that reviewed the papers. They reflect the importance and scientific quality of the conference.
In conclusion, I am sure that you will have a stimulating and interesting meeting. Vienna has a long and distinguished history of both the arts and sciences. This conference continues those traditions. Please use this opportunity to interact with each other to the full in this unique environment and exchange your experience and ideas for the future. I look forward to meeting you in more informal surroundings during the course of the next few days, and wish this conference every success.