Early Stages of PET/CT Development

The first proposal for a dual modality (two type) PET/CT scanner was first placed in 1994, as the brainchild of a Professor David Townsend and Ron Nuff, an engineer.

Together the two of them came up with the idea of a combine PET and CT scanner as they wanted to obtain clinical quality PET and CT scans that were accurately aligned from a single integrated scanner.

After a few years of basic concepts Townsend and Nuff secured funding from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to help produce a prototype PET/CT scanner.

Working with CTI PET systems of Knoxville, TN in the United States to produce the first prototype PET/CT scanner in 1998. The prototype was designed to show the following:

  • An integrated PET/CT scanner was feasible
  • It was not necessary to have simultaneous PET and CT scans as the CT short scan time can compensate for the longer PET scan time
  • It was more straightforward to engineer separate scanners for the one device

Taking information gathered through experience Townsend, Nuff and CTI PET systems produced a user-friendlier prototype that had a 60cm port (hole that the table and patient goes through) and an 110cm tunnel. These features were to reduce the feeling of claustrophobia that patients sometimes feel inside the PET and CT scanners.

CT and PET scanners were controlled by separate consoles, with the CT scan being performed first, as it is the shorter scan, followed by the more time consuming PET scan. The PET scan consol then combined both images to produce the final copies that were interpreted by specially trained physicians, as extra training is needed to study PET/CT scans as PET and CT scans are totally different and require individual training to view each.

The prototype was donated to the university of Pittsburgh for initial testing and study applications. From May 1998 to near the end of 2000 the prototype PET/CT scanner was used in over 300 cases and the results of the trial generated huge interest from not only the medical community as physicians started to ask for more PET/CT scans over single PET and CT scans, but also from the general community.

The success of the PET/CT prototype was first recognized in 1999 when it was awarded the prize for medical image of the year by the society of Nuclear medicine. More accolades soon followed as more people became aware of this new technology and further recognition was earned in 2000 when Time magazine gave the PET/CT scanner the prestigious title of Medical invention of the year to go with the title of most outstanding basic science paper the team members had already received from the Journal of Nuclear Medicine.

As PET/CT became more known in the medical world, more doctors started to request PET/CT above the individual forms as PET/CT provided physicians and technicians with:

  • More accurate localization of pathology
  • Greater confidence in reading the scans
  • More confidence in scheduling a single exam, rather than both separately. This confidence was both for the patient and surgeon.

These benefits alerted medical technology manufacture companies, who had started to become aware of this new imaging technology. The medical imaging companies decided that this new scanning technique could have a major impact in oncology, and this decision paved the way for more scanners to be designed and built.

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved the PET/CT concept and this enabled all major medical manufacture companies to work with the original developers to design and build new PET/CT scanners.

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