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EU joint effort leads to better cancer diagnosis in northern Italy

Since March 16, one of the most important drugs used primarily to diagnose cancer was made available for commercial production and distribution in some hospitals and treatment centres in northern Italy.

The availability of the drug, 18F-Fludeoxyglucose (18F-FDG), is the result of a joint agreement between the Institute for Health and Consumer Protection (IHCP), which is part of the European Unions Joint Research Centre (JRC), and the private company, Amersham Health. 18F-FDG is one of the most important radiopharmaceuticals used in Nuclear Medicine, mainly for cancer diagnosis using medical imaging technology known as Positron Emission Tomography (PET).,The Cyclotron facility at the IHCP in Ispra, hosts the first laboratory authorised to produce 18F-FDG in Italy. This laboratory will help ensure EU citizens to have equal access to this vital imaging technology. The facility means that local hospitals can now use 18F-FDG with their own PET systems without having to set up their own expensive cyclotron facilities. Cancer Diagnosis with Positron Emission Tomography Positron Emission Tomography (PET) is an extremely powerful medical imaging technique capable of detecting molecules labelled with short-lived radioisotopes. These are radioactive atomic nuclei that can be detected and located via the radiation they produce during their decay. Of the radiopharmaceuticals used for metabolic studies, 18F-FDG is used most frequently and is particularly important for detecting primary tumours or metastasis, and deciding on cancer treatments at an early stage. It can also be applied to other fields, such as cardiology and neurology. ,The 18F-FDG molecule displays a similar biochemical behaviour to normal glucose. Once it is injected into a patient it is transported throughout the body and accumulates more in certain tissues such as the heart, the brain and tumours. Specialised radiation detection methods can then accurately pinpoint where the 18F-FDG has accumulated, thus providing an image of the tumour tissue. Although this technique is now well established, PET facilities are unevenly distributed across the EU, partly due to high costs involved. ,Another obstacle in the exploitation of this technique is that the fluorine-18 radioisotope, which is used as the radioactive label of the FDG-molecule, has a half-life of less than two hours. This means that the delay between producing the 18F-FDG and the PET imaging must not be more than a few hours. Consequently, to employ this technique in the fight against cancer in Europe, a well-distributed network of 18F-FDG production laboratories close to PET facilities is required in order to avoid the logistical difficulties and costs associated with transporting patients long distances for their examinations. JRC-Amersham partnership The laboratory at the IHCPs cyclotron facility is the result of the collaboration between the JRC and Amersham and is the first to be granted a licence in Italy to produce the radiopharmaceutical, 18F-FDG. It is expected that the use of PET technology will expand locally, especially in the provinces of Varese and Novara as these are relatively close to the new facility. Hospitals may now buy and use PET technology without the necessity of investing several million Euros in their own cyclotron facilities. ,The facility at Ispra is the first one of its kind in Italy. Other centres for 18F-FDG distribution will follow allowing more efficient use of expensive cyclotrons and broader availability of the powerful PET technique, and thus providing better access to up-to-date cancer diagnosis for Italian citizens. This could also serve as a model for other EU countries where PET imaging is not yet well established and where there is still a long way to go to ensuring appropriate access to modern medical services.For further information:,,