The Nuclear Medicine Department at St. Bernards Medical Center has the distinction of being the only Center of Excellence in the state of Arkansas certified to use a newly Federal Drug Administration approved agent to evaluate patients with suspected Parkinsonian syndromes – such as Parkinson’s disease.
Developed by GE Healthcare, the agent is known as DaTscan. It represents the first tool physicians in the United States have access to that can help differentiate Parkinsonian syndromes from other conditions that mimic it. (It has been used in Europe for 10 years.)
It is important, points out Brad Doney, manager of the St. Bernards Nuclear Medicine Department, because in the past, physicians did not have a diagnostic imaging test that allowed them to distinguish between Parkinsonian syndromes and other conditions – like essential tremor, a common movement disorder.
DaTscan uses the first FDA-approved radiopharmaceutical adjunct imaging agent – ioflupane, which visualizes striatal dopamine transporters in the brain. Parkinsonian syndromes occur when the brain does not get enough dopamine to perform certain functions. (It’s the lack of dopamine that affects the brain’s ability to control movement and other muscle functions.)
Nuclear Medicine Technologists introduce the imaging drug into a patient’s bloodstream, wait 3 – 4 hours and use a gamma camera to record images of the brain. Using those studies, physicians literally can see the presence of dopamine transporters in the brain to help identify patients with Parkinsonian syndromes.
The actual test used with the new drug is a brain SPECT (single photon emission computerized tomography) scan, a kind of study that is well established and has been in use for 20 years. It’s the newly FDA-approved radiopharmaceutical that makes it different.
In the past, Parkinsons diagnoses were made based on subjective observations of physicians. However, reliance on clinical exams alone – especially early in the disease – led to inconclusive results and sometimes misdiagnoses. While the symptoms are similar, treatment and management greatly differ.
DaTscan can help rule out one of these conditions … and can be tremendously helpful in reaching an appropriate and timely diagnosis for patients. Until now, an accurate diagnosis for patients with neurodegenerative movement disorders such as Parkinsons disease could take up to six years.
The radiologists and staff in the Nuclear Medicine Department at St. Bernards worked closely with the manufacturer to conduct required preliminary testing of nuclear medicine cameras and equipment and performed what are known as phantom studies with the radiopharmaceutical during the FDA review process. Because of that and because its technologists have been specially trained, the St. Bernards department already is certified to perform the DaTscans. As a matter of fact, it is the only Nuclear Medicine Department in the state certified to perform the studies at the present time.
Parkinsons disease affects a million people in this country and 10 million worldwide. It is only one of several types of Parkinsonian syndromes. In the United States, up to 60,000 new cases of Parkinsons disease are diagnosed each year.
The use of ioflupane was approved by the FDA earlier this year. Since then, St. Bernards already has performed a number of the outpatient studies and has others scheduled.
The St. Bernards Nuclear Medicine Department lead by board certified radiologists and is the largest nuclear medicine department in the state, with eight Nuclear Medicine Technologists on staff. All technologists hold a master’s or bachelor’s degree and all are nationally board certified and registered. St. Bernards also has radiologists on staff with fellowships in neuroradiology.