Advancing Nuclear Medicine in Ukraine

Posted by: Gaia Self, Economic Analyst for Environment, Science, Technology and Health

Opening Day of the Nuclear Medicine Conference – Kharkiv, 19 September 2011

On September 17th I traveled to Kharkiv to attend a three-day international workshop on “Nuclear Medicine: Physics, Engineering and Practice,” which brought together over 100 scientists from 13 Ukrainian and 11 international research institutes. This forum was the first of its kind in Ukraine and created a new community of Ukrainian and international stakeholders in the field of nuclear medicine. American scientists who participated in the workshop came from Argonne National Laboratories, Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, University of Texas, University of Arizona, Johns Hopkins University and Chicago Trauma Risk Management Research Institute. The conference took place at the Institute for Scintillation Materials and was sponsored in part by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Energy. Chicago-based Argonne National Laboratories provided technical support to the event.

Scientists gathered into small groups to discuss specific projects in the field of nuclear medicine

The host city of Kharkiv has a long history as a center of academic excellence. V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University, founded in 1804, was one of the oldest academic institutions of the Russian Empire. Since the early 19th Century, Kharkiv has seen the development of over 60 scientific institutions and 80 libraries, continuing today as one of the major cultural and scientific hubs of Ukraine. No other place could have been better suited to welcome dozens of international and Ukrainian scientists who gathered to assess the latest trends in nuclear medicine. One of the main goals of the workshop was to create opportunities for cooperation to reduce the cost and broaden the availability of diagnostic equipment. Speakers discussed the production of isotopes for medical purposes, instrumentation for medical imaging, trends in radionuclide diagnostics, research and development of pharmaceuticals for nuclear medicine, bio-medical applications and new detectors for nuclear medicine. The workshop also included smaller sections where experts discussed specific challenges and projects in the field of nuclear medicine, and over 50 experts complemented the formal presentations with “poster sessions” right outside the conference room.

The Institute for Scintillation Materials opened its museum to participants

The Institute for Scintillation Materials (ISMA), headed by Dr. Borys Grynyov was the ideal host for this workshop. Part of the Kharkiv Institute for Single Crystals (ISC), ISMA/ISC is the world’s second largest producer of scintillation crystals after the French company St. Gobain and together they share nearly the entire market. In layman’s terms, scintillation crystals are materials employed in the production of CT scanners and gamma cameras used in medical diagnostics. Their properties (such as chemical composition, dimensions, quality) contribute to the effectiveness of pre-medical imaging tools and influence their cost and affordability. Beyond nuclear medicine, scintillators have security applications (like Homeland Security radiation detectors), and can be used also for environmental monitoring and the productions of space instrumentation.

Ukraine is international leader in the growth and industrial production of crystals

During the conference, ISMA offered access to participants to its crystals production facilities and the Institute’s museum, which showcases the Institute’s latest models of medical screening technology as well as its storied history. The workshop was an unprecedented opportunity for participants to learn first-hand about Ukraine’s capabilities in the development and production of crystals and pre-medical imaging equipment, and the experience generated several ideas for cooperation between American and Ukrainian institutes that are currently under discussion. Highlighting the benefits of scientific and technological cooperation between the U.S. and Ukraine and expanding commercial opportunities in the field of scintillation crystals was one of the workshop’s main achievements.
U.S. scientists described the experience as eye-opening in understanding the potential of Ukraine’s crystals industry. Among the factors that make the development and production of crystals unique in Ukraine are the low-cost approach and the production of large high-quality crystals in industrial quantities. In addition, scientists discovered Ukraine’s advanced level of expertise also in the application of crystals, such as the construction of pre-medical equipment. Today, Ukraine is a leading supplier of crystals worldwide and few countries in the world can match its capabilities, which offers great opportunities to American and international potential partners.

Most importantly, the opportunity to mingle both formally and informally made the workshop an incubator of not only new ideas for collaboration, but of new relationships between American and Ukrainian scientists. The initiative for this conference originated from the U.S.-Ukraine Science and Technology Working Group, which is part of the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership Commission and is designed to promote collaboration in health research and other areas of scientific and technological cooperation. The success of the Nuclear Medicine Conference demonstrates both countries’ commitment to making this Working Group a success!

Industrial tour of the Institute for Single Crystals

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