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Creating A Virtual Community For Nuclear Medicine

A 'one-stop shop' Web portal for Radiopharmacists, who prepare the radioactive drugs used in the Nuclear Medicine departments of many hospitals and clinics around the world, is becoming a reality with the help of three million euros from the EUs Framework Programme.

Nuclear medicine uses small amounts of radioactive tracers that are each designed to be taken up predominantly by one organ or cell type in the body. They are injected, inhaled or swallowed for the diagnosis of various diseases - including many types of Cardiac, Brain and Lung imaging as well as bone and breast scans. Then, after a certain time, the patient will be asked to lie down on an imaging table where a camera either rotates around or surrounds the patient, collects the radiological signals from the tracer and creates a picture or image of the organ or tissue. Radiopharmacy is, naturally, a very highly regulated area to ensure that the drugs produced comply with internationally agreed safety requirements. Good working practices are essential and people working in this field need to be well trained and up to date with the latest developments. VirRAD is an attempt to revolutionise teaching in this specialist medical area by taking learning out of the classroom and into the workplace through the world-wide-web. The problem is that because of its highly specialised nature, the number of practitioners in any one locality is few, says project co-ordinator Professor Stephen Mather, from Cancer Research UK. Even the largest hospitals, imaging centres and University departments only employ a few people, so basing training schemes on conventional classroom scenarios is logistically and financially difficult. VirRAD will improve communications and learning within this very specialised area and, we believe, could be adapted to meet the needs of other similar specialised medical fields. "Given that we estimate the likely maximum size of this community to be no more than 2000, we are very encouraged by the level of interest so far, but our challenge is to involve the 'lurkers' - those who tend only to view information rather than interact with the rest of the Radiopharmacy community." Despite these challenges, the advantages of the VirRAD system in building a virtual community are already emerging with strings of several messages developing within the discussion forums set up on specific radiopharmacy topics. This is a massive improvement on the email discussions that were used before VirRAD and did not develop very long strings of communication. In terms of content, the website is still in its early stages. Later prototypes will offer courseware for learning and training in radiopharmacy at all student levels. At its most basic, an introduction to nuclear medicine is already available to the general public, providing information on how it is used, and what the risks and benefits are to patients. Anybody recommended for a medical imaging scan can therefore find out more about the test procedure for particular medical diagnoses, and how nuclear medicine works compared to other imaging techniques. The long-term objective is to offer a learning environment that addresses the needs of student radiopharmacists or technologists, according to the agreed syllabus of the European Association of Nuclear Medicine. The learning environment will combine several available technologies, including virtual reality, Web-based multimedia displays and streaming video, in addition to applying the latest learner models. Having been involved in dispensing isotopes 30 years ago, I am delighted to see funding from the Information Society Technologies are of Framework Funding being used to address issues I used to meet on a daily basis - and in a way that has a much wider impact than on our lives, not just for technology boffins, Peter Walters, UK National Contact Point for IST within the EUs 6th Framework Programme. IST has a major role to play in all our futures, and yet without support from the EUs Framework Programme this project may not have been possible. The Framework Programmes are the EU's main vehicle for support of leading edge, internationally collaborative R&D. The current Framework Programme (FP6) runs until 2006 and organisations wanting free information on how to access some of the 19bn available should log on to http://fp6uk.ost.gov.uk or call central telephone support on 0870 600 6080.The EU's Framework Programmes are the world's largest, publicly funded, research and technological development programmes. The Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) covers the period 2002-2006 and is the European Union's main instrument for the funding of collaborative research and innovation. It is open to public and private entities of all sizes in the EU and a number of non-EU countries. It has an overall budget of 19 billion. ,Most of the budget for FP6 is devoted to work in seven priority thematic areas: ,? Life sciences, Genomics and Biotechnology for Health; ,? Information Society Technologies; ,? Nanotechnologies and Nanosciences, Knowledgebased Multifunctional Materials and New Production Processes and Devices; ,? Aeronautics and Space; ,? Food Quality and Safety; ,? Sustainable Development, Global Change and Ecosystems; and ,? Citizens and Governance in a Knowledge-based Society. There is also a focus on the research activities of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) across all seven thematic areas. The services of FP6UK are provided by the Office of Science & Technology (OST) / Department of Trade & Industry (DTI). More information can be found on http://fp6uk.ost.gov.uk IST Programme ,The IST Priority Thematic Area (PTA) of the 6th Framework Programme (FP6) is the largest of the seven PTA's - with a budget of 3.822bn over the lifetime of FP6. Over 400 projects will arise from the first three calls, These calls had a combined budget in excess of 1.5 billion. The 4th Call for proposals is presently open it will close on 21 March 2005. It will be followed in May by the 5th call closing Sept 2005. Together these remaining calls have a budget of 1.7 billion.

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