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Detector Group Project:   Improve Breast Tumor Diagnostics Using Positron Emission Mammography

The Detector Group is collaborating with University of Virginia, on a medical instumentation project to improve breast tumor detection. The Detector Group developed a dual-head radiation imaging detector using techniques used in nuclear physics research. This detector makes use of positron emission tomography techniques which could enable physicians to detect smaller tumors with more accuracy.

In this method of tumor diagnosis, each patient is injected with a glucose-like molecule which has a radioactive tracer. Cancerous tissue often has a higher affinity for glucose than healthy tissue, so the tracer will accumulate more in tumors. The accumulation or "hot spot" can then be detected with the imaging detector. The "hot spot" is detected when the isotope decays by emitting a positron. When this positron encounters an electron the collision results in the emission of a pair of gamma rays traveling in opposite directions. It is these two gamma rays which are detected by the dual-head position sensitive photo multiplier tube (PSPMT).

The PSPMT detects light or gamma rays on the surface of a scintillation detector, which is designed to pick up a flash of light produced by the absorption of an ionizing particle. This detector spots low levels of electricity signals and amplifies the signal 10,000,000 times. It is this unique technology that constructs a more accurate image of the small tumor.

The technology provided by the dual-head detector fits into a standard mammography gantry and has already been used in three clinical studies.