Karachi: Cancer, heart and neurology patients are set to benefit from the Aga Khan University Hospital’s acquisition of a PET-CT scanner and cyclotron, a Rs 350 million gift from more than 30 generous donors.
The University Hospital also becomes the only hospital in the south of the country to have a cyclotron. The on-site cyclotron – which produces the short-lived radioactive material used in PET scanning – will produce a dose-on-demand, tailored specifically for each patient.
Combined PET-CT scanners are ubiquitous in hospital radiology departments in Europe and the US. In Pakistan, significant cost of the equipment itself, the associated costs of running a scanner and most of all, limited technical expertise have made hospitals wary of bringing in the technology.
“Nuclear medicine has flourished as a field in Pakistan since the early 2000s but the number of trained practitioners are still very few,” says Dr Maseeh Uzzaman, head of the nuclear medicine section, department of radiology, AKUH. “We need both high quality images and interpretation and review of the images by qualified nuclear medicine physicians.”
Time is of essence when detecting a disease or determining the course of its management. The PET-CT scanner is unique as it presents a real-time image of changes occurring in the body, and helps identify abnormal or unusual activity that a CT scan or MRI would miss. This means that patients have a better chance of beating their illnesses without multiple tests or unnecessary procedures.
“Patients will not have to wait till the end of the chemo or radiotherapy treatment cycle to see if the treatment is producing results. Scans can be performed after one or two doses of chemo or radiotherapy, and a decision made on whether to go through the remaining cycle,” he explained.
“A combination of factors must come together to improve cancer treatment and this is another step towards our Centre of Excellence in Oncology,” explained AKU President Firoz Rasul. “From providing a treatment facility close to home so that patients do not have to travel every time they need to get an image taken, the ability to keep the equipment running reliably and consistently to the expertise to read the images produced, we will be able to both diagnose the problem and to offer world-leading treatment.”
“Since teaching and research is as important as the clinical service we provide to our patients, this machine will also enable us to train a new generation of professionals and investigative markers or new drugs for our local populations,” he added.
The investment in nuclear medicine is a gift from individuals, families and corporations from across Pakistan, who are part of the University Hospital’s successful US$27 million Capital Campaign to increase access to high quality healthcare in Pakistan.
Besides cancer, the PET-CT scanner allows heart and brain abnormalities to be detected. More infrastructure changes will unfold over the next few years as the Centre of Excellence in Oncology is unveiled.