The Radiochemistry Team, and Everything That Doesn’t Go Wrong

The Martinos Center’s Radiochemistry Team successfully produced 277 human doses last year. Photo by Caroline Magnain.

PET-MR, a multimodality imaging technique that pairs the whole-body functional imaging of positron emission tomography (PET) with the local anatomic detail and morphological information of magnetic resonance (MR) imaging, shows great potential for clinical application. We still don’t know exactly how it might slot into clinical practice, but exciting trends in its use are beginning to emerge: for example, in oncology, neurology and cardiology.

Investigators are working to establish the clinical role of PET-MR, testing and validating the imaging modality through a range of individually designed studies and protocols. Because PET relies on radioactive agents—called radiotracers—for image contrast, every one of these studies involves a careful, controlled preparation process. This is why, in the MGH Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, the radiochemistry team is so indispensable.

In 2016, the radiochemistry team successfully produced a record 277 doses of contrast agent for human MR-PET studies in the Center. This is a remarkable achievement, especially considering the number of things can go wrong during the many different steps in the process: There are at least ten steps between the cyclotron and the measurement itself, and any of these could result in either a production failure or a quality control failure on the production side.

What can go wrong during the process? It would be easier to list the things that can’t go wrong, said Judit Sore, the radiochemistry production and quality assurance manager for the Center. And even then, she couldn’t think of a one of those—except, she said, the uncompromising and guaranteed quality of the final product prior to injection.

Sore attributes the record number of successful human doses last year to a range of factors: continuous training, policy enforcement, efficient handling of logistics, and more. Perhaps most important, though, is the highly skilled and disciplined team working to produce the doses. Even after losing two of their indefatigable staff to medical school—head radiochemist Kari Phan and quality control analyst Garima Gautam—they were able to meet the ever-growing demand for the unique services they provide the Center.

Nuclear medicine technologists and newly hired and trained staff are also to be credited for this accomplishment. These include Jane Yang, Grae Arabasz, Daniela Bernales, Shirley Hsu, Kristen McCarty, Regan Butterfield, Robert Ingalls and Samantha To.

So what’s next for MR-PET in the Center? Sore has a clear idea of what her team, at least, hopes to achieve in the coming year. Here’s to 300 successful human doses, she said.

Gary Boas