Cancer Diagnostics: Merging Knowledge about Oncology and Nuclear Physics


In September 2014, ground was broken on a new medical centre that is being established in a former bomb shelter in Riga. It will be able to diagnose cancer and heart disease very early in the development of the disease — at the level of changes in cell metabolism. This will be the most modern centre of its type in the Baltic region, utilising the world’s most progressive nuclear medical technologies.


The primary goal of the Nuclear Medicine Centre (NMC) is to increase precise and timely diagnosis and treatment among cancer patients. “One of the world’s most progressive medical technologies is arriving in Latvia – a method that merges positron emission tomography and computer tomography,” says NMC board chairman Vitālijs Skrīvelis. “This will make it possible to visualise the disease at a very early stage.”


Vitālijs demonstrates an image of a patient who has been examined with the new method, in which cancerous cells are tinted bright yellow. “After merging Latvian and international knowledge about oncology and nuclear physics,” the scientist says, “it has become possible to make strides towards ensuring better health and welfare for future generations.” The new method uses radionuclides with a short and very short deterioration period. Patients are examined in a new type of tomograph, the Positron Emission Tomograph, in combination with computer tomography. Initially, the NMC will be able to examine as many as 3,000 patients per year.


The work of the NMC will be international in nature, too, offering diagnostic services to patients from neighbouring countries. In partnership with the Riga Stradiņš University, the centre will research new cancer medications and conduct clinical research. The centre will synthesise the radionuclides that are necessary for researching new medications, and the plan is to export them for scientific purposes to Vilnius, Kaunas, Vitebsk, Minsk, Tallinn and Tartu. The NMC also hopes to bring students into the process as well.


Vitālijs insists that improving the precise and timely diagnosis of cancer is important in the Baltic States and in Belarus, which together hold some 16 million residents. According to the World Health Organisation, cancer is one of the primary causes of disease and death across the planet. Latvia has more than 70,000 cancer patients, with the number of deaths from cancer increasing every year.