Future holds the promise of new generation imaging technology that may completely eliminate the use ionising radiation, says Satyaki Banerjee, Director – International Operations, Trivitron Healthcare Group of Companies
Advancement in medical diagnostics field over the years have led to widespread use of ionising radiation for detection of fractures, infections, tumours, internal injury, blood vessel damage and several other medical conditions.
Overexposure to radiation leads to a multitude of severe biological effects, ranging from burns, radiation sickness, to bone-marrow damage, genetic mutation and cancer.
The manifestation of such biological effects is dependent on the nature of exposure: the deterministic effect, caused by exposure to high dose of radiation in a short time span may lead to burns and radiation sickness, and the stochastic effect caused by prolonged exposure to low dose of radiation may lead to genetic mutation and cancer.
Radiation protection has been a subject matter of intense research over the years with the goal to develop products that would provide effective protection against the harmful effects of radiation to patients and occupationally exposed individuals like healthcare professionals working in radiology centres and surgeons using interventional radiology.
Multiple approaches are used simultaneously for radiation protection that includes: structural lead shielding of X-ray equipment and use of filters and anti-scatter grids; use of collimator to limit the X-ray beam to precisely the required area; and use of personal radiation protection gear like radiation attenuating apparel, thyroid shields, gonad/ovarian shields, patient oriented computed tomography shields, gloves, mittens and eye-wear to protect against scatter radiation.
Principle focus of current research
Design optimisation to provide precise levels of radiation protection to vital organs without affecting the ergonomics and convenience of the healthcare professional performing the procedure, for example significant research efforts are being made to develop ultra-thin radiation protection gloves with high radiation attenuation for use by surgeons performing cardiac catheterisation or similar interventional radiology procedures where tactile sensitivity is of paramount importance. The world’s leading manufacturers of radiation protection gloves are able to offer gloves as thin as 0.20mm thickness containing no lead.
Eliminating the use of lead considering its many environmental hazards and also the heavy weight associated with lead containing functional core material. State of the art material science research has led to the development of ultra-light functional core materials with no lead at all using a combination of bismuth, antimony and tungsten offering the same level of radiation attenuation as conventional lead containing material. The level of radiation protection obtained by personal radiation protection gear is quantified through its lead equivalency rating (Pb rating). A 0.5Pb rating apron is expected to provide the same protection as a 0.5mm thick sheet of lead. It has been possible to develop zero lead materials with 0.5Pb rating that offers 99 per cent protection against radiation.
While the future holds the promise of new generation imaging technology that may completely eliminate the use ionising radiation, but till the time such technology is successfully developed and translated to widespread commercial use, radiation protection gear would continue to play a pivotal role in the healthcare system protecting patients and healthcare professionals world over and would warrant continuing research efforts for further advancement of this field.