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Experts Emphasise Importance of Multidisciplinary Approaches Involving Nuclear Techniques at World Cancer Day Event

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The IAEA is heavily involved in the fight against cancer through the application of nuclear techniques including radiotherapy, brachytherapy and diagnostic radiopharmaceuticals. These efforts contribute to the achievement of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3 (ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages).

“Cancer care should be carried out comprehensively…we have incorporated a cancer control program into our national health system,” said keynote speaker Nila F. Moeloek, Indonesia’s Minister of Health. Sustainable collaboration and coordination with all stakeholders is key, she added.

Alan Jackson, Chair of the Continuous Update Panel on Nutrition and Cancer & Professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Southampton, United Kingdom talked about the role of nutrition and physical activity in the prevention and management of cancer.

“There are a range of opportunities that are being developed and promoted involving isotopic techniques in the prevention and treatment of cancer,” Jackson said. “There is an emerging international collaboration involving the link between nutrition and cancer.”

Joanna Kasznia-Brown, a UK radiologist and member of the International Committee of the Royal College of Radiologists, discussed the role of medical imaging in cancer management, including diagnosis and determining the treatment plan. “If we catch the cancer in its early stages, we can treat patients with much better results,” she said.

Mack Roach III, Professor of Radiation Oncology and Urology, Director, Particle Therapy Research Program & Outreach, Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of California-San Francisco, emphasized the importance of the multidisciplinary management of cancer, and in particular the role of radiotherapy.

“Radiotherapy continues to be one of the oldest, most effective and cost-effective treatments for cancer available today,” Roach said. Improvements in computers, imaging and material sciences have resulted in major advances in the accuracy and safety of radiotherapy, he added.

Jake Van Dyk, President of Medical Physics for World Benefit & Professor Emeritus of Oncology and Medical Biophysics, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada discussed the use of medical physics as an integral part of the path towards a cancer-free world.

“Medical physicists are important members of a radiotherapy team,” Van Dyk said. “They are critical for positive patient outcomes, and training of the next generation of medical physicists, radiation oncologist and radiation therapists is critical.”

Ntokozo Ndlovu, Radiation Oncologist & Senior Lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences, Zimbabwe discussed the role of nuclear techniques for cancer treatment in Africa.

“The IAEA has been instrumental in building capacity in radiotherapy in Africa, particularly through an African Regional Project on Radiotherapy,” Ndolovu said. “This project led to the creation of the African Radiation Oncology Network (AFRONET), a telemedicine initiative to improve the quality of clinical decisions and radiotherapy treatment, strengthen the education of medical residents and improve treatment outcomes.”

“The IAEA World Cancer Day event highlighted the importance of advances in radiation medicine in fighting cancer as well as nutrition for prevention and served as a bridge between science and policy,” said May Abdel-Wahab, Director of the IAEA’s Division of Human Health.

The event was livestreamed on our Facebook page. The recording is available here.

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DR Congo Scientists Control Avian Influenza Outbreak Using Nuclear Techniques

Scientists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) have identified a new outbreak of avian influenza using highly specific and sensitive nuclear-derived techniques. Thanks to a quick detection and characterization of the virus and subsequent local response, the outbreak is currently under control and limited to the Lake Albert region, near the border with Uganda, scientists have said.

“This is the first time we spot this strain of the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain in DR Congo. We were surprised, but also lucky to detect it soon enough,” said Curé Georges Tshilenge Mbuyi, head of the Central Veterinary Laboratory in Kinshasa. Stopping the spread of the virus early is particularly important, he added: Not only does it have a devastating effect on poultry, but it can also be transmitted to humans.

Tshilenge Mbuyi and his team learned how to detect such viruses and interpret the results during recent training courses organized by the IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

They first used a nuclear-derived technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology to identify the genome of the virus. This technology allows for the identification of viruses — including Ebola — within a few hours and with a high degree of accuracy.

The team then submitted specially prepared samples to a laboratory in Germany, a subcontracting genetic sequencing service that the IAEA provides to its Member States. The DR Congo laboratory then had to interpret the sequencing results received from the German lab. It was thanks to the training he received that Tshilenge Mbuyi could interpret the sequence data, characterize the virus as H5N8 and find out crucial information such as the origin of the strain and the way the disease was developing.

Once the scientists confirmed the presence and strain of the virus, authorities immediately applied a series of sanitary measures to control the outbreak, including culling all domesticated and wild birds along the lake. Veterinarians are now beginning to take samples from villages in the wider region to ensure the virus has not spread, Tshilenge Mbuyi said.

The same virus strain has also been detected in Uganda, Cameroon, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and experts are concerned that it may spread further in the region. “They’re wild birds that migrate with the change of seasons, so they can carry the virus across long distances,” said Ivancho Nateloski, technical officer at the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture.

The IAEA, through its technical cooperation programme, and in partnership with the FAO, has been supporting veterinary authorities in DR Congo since the early 1990s with training courses, scientific visits, expert visits and through the provision of relevant equipment, materials and guidance for the early diagnoses and control of transboundary animal and zoonotic diseases.

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