The country has reached another milestone in its development of nuclear medicine as the largest radioisotope producing infrastructure is set to be inaugurated today.
Cyclotron, a radioisotope producing machine and Positron Emission Tomography-Computed Tomography (PET-CT) scanning machines have been set up in the National Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences (NINMAS) in Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) and Dhaka Medical College campus.
NINMAS, an establishment of the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC) under the Ministry of Science & Technology, is the leading institute of nuclear medicine activities in the country.
Architect Yeafesh Osman, Minister of Science and Technology, is scheduled to inaugurate these infrastructures on Sunday.
With the establishment of this infrastructure, nuclear medicine is expected to be more accessible and affordable for cancer patients who usually go abroad for treatment.
Officials at the BAEC are expecting the number of patients going abroad for treatment to drop following the unveiling of these facilities.
Dr Shamim Momtaz Ferdousi Begum, Director and Head of PET-CT Division of NINMAS told The Business Standard that with these facilities we have now achieved the ability to provide the most advanced treatment for cancer.
"In developed countries, it is considered that without PET-CT, cancer treatment is incomplete because cancer treatment varies from patient to patient based on their disease stage and condition and to know the cancer condition and stage more accurately, PET-CT scan is a must," she said.
She also said that they are aiming to provide the service at a very minimal price.
Currently, two private hospitals and four state-owned hospitals and facilities are taking radioisotopes from NINMAS, in Shahbag.
PET-CT is being used for diagnosing 90% of cancer diseases, said a source at the health ministry.
In Bangladesh, however, only United Hospital had both scanning and radioisotope producing infrastructure with a limited capacity. Whereas, Medinova and Evervare have the PET-CT scanning machine but not the isotope machine.
Due to the lack of radioisotope, cancer treatment in these private hospitals and even in foreign countries are very costly.
According to the Globocan 2020 data, almost 1.56 lakh new cancer patients are diagnosed in Bangladesh each year and 1.08 lakh patients die from cancer.
Indian Tourism Ministry's data also says that 54.3% of the country's medical tourism in 2020 was from Bangladesh and most of them were patients seeking complex heart surgeries and cancer care.
In 2011, however, the Science and Technology Ministry undertook a project titled 'PET-CT establishment with Cyclotron facility'.
Under the project, two PET-CT scanning machines have been set up in the National Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences (NINMAS) in BSMMU and another one on the Dhaka Medical College campus.
Sources said that private hospitals charge Tk50,000 to Tk55,000 for each PET-CT test.
Dr Anwar-ul-Azim of NINMAS told TBS that now people will be able to get the service at Tk25000 in public hospitals thanks to the isotope production and PET-CT machine in the public sector.
He said, "This machine will help meet the pharmaceutical demand of radioisotopes in other hospitals. Therefore, cancer patients will not need to go to neighbouring India and other foreign countries for diagnosis."
Cyclotron machine to produce Isotope:
The radioisotope producing machine, established in the Oncology building of the BSMMU, is the largest and first public sector's machine in the country.
There is a sophisticated Radiochemistry Lab and quality control lab in the Cyclotron infrastructure.
At present, 18F-FDG isotope or radioactive material are being supplied to four public and two private PET-CT facilities after producing from IBA Cyclone 18/9 MeV Cyclotron.
Apart from 18F to 18F-FDG, the radiochemistry lab can produce some other types of medicine in the facility.
Currently, Combined Military Hospital (CMH), Dhaka Medical College, BSMMU, Atomic Energy Commission, Medinova and Evercare take isotopes from NINMAS.
How PET-CT machine works:
The PET-CT scan identifies cancer and complex diseases in different parts of the human body including the lung, liver, kidney, bones, and brain.
To conduct a PET-CT scan, a tiny nuclear medicine named Isotope (18F-FDG) needs to be injected into a patient's body through the vein. The Isotope takes position in the most active cells of the body and provides a fusion image on scanning.
PET-CT scan provides the fusion image of organs' most active cells while CT scan provides only structural and positional images of a location. Both imaging technology help doctors diagnose the disease and determine the best possible course of treatment without any painful test or surgery.
In addition, PET-CT also helps in observing the results or effectiveness of ongoing treatment.