Becquerel's Legacy to nuclear medicine


Over the past year the celebration of the discovery of Xrays by Roentgen has somewhat overshadowed a more important event for nuclear medicine the discovery of radioactivity by Antoine Henri Becquerel on March 1896. Yet this discovery has led to unique techniques for the investigation of biochemistry and metabolism in living organisms ranging from bacteria to man. It is pleasing to note in this editorial some of the contributions made by Europeans to the development of nuclear medicine. Following the discovery of X-rays, Henri Poincar6 in France suggested that fluorescence and the production of X-rays could be linked. Becquerel placed fluorescent mineral crusts on photographic plates and stored them in darkness. Subsequent development of the plates showed blackening that could not have been due to sunlight or fluorescence. At the same time Sylvanus Thompson in London was studying uranium nitrate. He found that it also blackened photographic plates but, in spite of the advice of the then President of The Royal Society (London), on 29 February 1896 Thompson did not publish his findings until after Becquerel. One hundred years later, perhaps for different reasons, the necessity for rapid publication remains! In 1903 Becquerel was awarded a Nobel prize jointly with Pi6rre and Marie Curie. He was a Professor of Physics at the Ecole Polytechnique, Paris, and a member of the Acadtmie des Sciences. He died in 1908 at the early age of 55 years. Becquerel's original discovery has led to the evolution of the use of radioisotopes for the diagnosis and treatment of human pathology, as well as the investigation of the aetiology and causes of human disease. The use of radioisotopes as tracers for human physiology was pioneered by George Hevesy (in Germany), starting with his attempts to develop new cures for cancer and syphilis. He studied the distribution of 21°pb in rabbits, presenting the results to the French Academy in Paris in April 1924. However, it was only after the war when atomic energy was made available for peaceful uses that clinical studies became possible. Reactor production of radioisotopes for clinical use at Harwell in England started in 1947. Most of the first applications concentrated on the use of radioactivity for therapy. Treatment with i.v. 32p started in December 1948, 131I for thyroid carcinoma in 1949 and 198Au for pleural effusions in 1950. Soon radioisotopes were used for tracer studies using sample-counting methods. As detectors became available and more radioisotopes were obtainable commercially or made 'in house', in vivo counting studies were developed. In 1952 Pabst used radio-xenon for perfusion studies, Hundeshagen (Hannover) undertook the first cardiological investigation with 51Cr-labelled erythrocytes, while Hoffman and Kleine (Freiburg) developed cardiographical functional analysis, considered to be the forerunner of gated blood-pool studies. Fellinger (Vienna) introduced radiation synovectomy. Based on studies by Taplin in America, renal studies were developed by Feine, using radioactive particles, and by Scheer (Heidelberg), using 13q-inulin. Some of the original measurements of hepatic blood flow were made in Austria in 1954 by Neumayr and Vetter. New areas of interest in nuclear medicine continue to evolve. In the last decade there have been exciting developments in brain research. Studies by Crawley in England and Wong in the United States on imaging dopamine D2 receptors have led to methods of demonstrating the abnormal biochemistry found in patients with psychiatric and other diseases and how they can be improved by drug therapy. In the early days the scope for innovation was infinite, with new radionuclides becoming available, and novel methods of imaging and recording data from in vivo radiotracers in the human body being developed with great rapidity. The legislators and ethics committees had yet to make their impact on the use of radioactivity for clinical purposes and so ideas could be turned into results in a very short time. When the Geiger-Mutler tube was invented in 1929, it was mainly used as a counter in the laboratory, then subsequently used for early imaging studies when radionuclides became availabe for clinical use. In 1949, in Liverpool, England, Ansell and Rotblat published results of 131I uptake measurements in thyroid glands, using a manual point-by-point method. Soon afterwards, Mayneord in the Royal Cancer Hospital (London) developed an automatic scanner for imaging therapy sources, but subsequently used it to image 13li in a patient being treated for thyroid cancer. The first automatic scanner using a sodium iodide crystal was reported by Cassen from the United States in 1950. Mallard and Peachey at the Hammersmith Hospital in London developed a whole-body scanner with a colour printer in the mid-1950s, but it was the US-made Picker Magnascanner that really made routine clinical isotope scanning widely available in 1953. Kellershohn replaced

DOI: 10.1007/BF00833379

Cite this paper

@article{Cready1996BecquerelsLT, title={Becquerel's Legacy to nuclear medicine}, author={V. Ralph Mc Cready}, journal={European Journal of Nuclear Medicine}, year={1996}, volume={23}, pages={489-490} }