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What Are the Different Types of Nuclear Medicine Equipment?

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  • Written By: R. Bargar
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2016
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Nuclear medicine equipment uses advanced nuclear technology for diagnostic medical imaging and disease treatment. Different types of nuclear medicine equipment are designed for use in conjunction with specific radioisotopes for a variety of imaging purposes. Specialized sensors act as cameras to detect and track radiation emitted by small amounts of radioisotopes or radionuclides in medical dyes. Radiography relied on X-ray equipment for decades before advances in technology allowed the development of a variety of highly sophisticated nuclear imaging methods. Nuclear medicine imaging equipment allows for much earlier detection of medical problems, as these images are able to show changes in metabolic functioning along with changes in structure.

Specialized nuclear medicine equipment is used for nuclear scintigraphy — a diagnostic imaging of bone and soft tissue. A scintigraphy camera, or gamma camera, detects gamma rays emitted by radionuclides. The radionuclides are combined with drugs to create radiopharmaceuticals, formulated to target specific organs or bone tissue. Nuclear scintigraphy detects metabolic abnormalities, as diseased or injured tissues accumulate the radiopharmaceuticals differently than normal tissue, providing diagnostic images pinpointing medical problems. A computer converts data collected by the gamma camera to images.

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Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) uses a gamma camera that rotates around the specific organ targeted by the radiopharmaceuticals. This nuclear medicine equipment is used in combination with a gamma emitter, which has a relatively long half-life, to show how blood flows to tissues and organs. Rather than being absorbed into tissues and organs, the radiopharmaceuticals remain in the bloodstream. Sophisticated computer programs transform the data collected by the gamma camera into images. The computer combines the series of two-dimensional cross sections into a three-dimensional image of the organ being studied.

Positron emission tomography (PET) equipment also creates a three-dimensional image of tissues or organs in the body. Radiopharmaceuticals concentrate in the tissue or organ being scanned, causing the emission of a pair of gamma photons. Detection equipment converts the emissions to light and then to electrical signals that are changed to images by a computer. The table the patient is on then moves and the process is repeated, building a series of images. Particle accelerators produce the radioisotopes with very short half-lives for use in PET scans, so this nuclear medical equipment must be located near an accelerator.

Dentistry also uses nuclear medicine equipment for imaging. The health of teeth, jawbones and tissues is analyzed using dental radiographs. These images are produced by X-rays and captured on film or an electronic sensor placed in the patient’s mouth. A panoramic view of the entire mouth uses externally placed film or sensors. The use of computed tomography (CT) scans for dental imaging is expanding as nuclear medicine equipment advances.

Veterinary science uses nuclear medicine equipment produced specifically for animals. Specially-designed small animal as well as farm animal equipment is available for imaging purposes. Large animal CT scanners are built to accommodate animals weighing up to a ton. Nuclear scintigraphy is also used in animals to detect injuries to bones and ligaments or to evaluate the functioning of the brain, liver or other organs. As with human patients, a gamma camera and injected radioisotopes are used to view bones and internal organs.

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