Research and innovation

Nuclear medicine techniques are used extensively in medical research from ‘bench to bed’, focusing on the development and validation of new molecular imaging tests, radionuclide therapies applications, drug discovery and imaging of drug targets. Although it is a relatively small specialty it has made valuable impact in science and clinical research. Reflecting this, nuclear medicine journals score highly in impact factor in comparison to other imaging journals. Nuclear medicine epitomises multidisciplinary research where fundamental scientists such as biologists, chemists and physicists work alongside clinical scientists and academics. This has led to the development of novel ligands that can be used to elicit mechanism, develop next generation drugs, and often at the same time diagnose, treat and monitor therapy, applying theranostic principles in patients in a way that no other in vivo methodology can. As we look to the future, nuclear medicine is leading clinical molecular imaging and radionuclide molecular radiotherapies into an exciting new era of precision medicine impacting on major fields including oncology, neurology, old age psychiatry, cardiology, inflammation and fibrosis.

Nuclear medicine research is often incorporated alongside clinical practice and offers numerous opportunities for innovation. This includes data collection from appropriate patients and recruitment into clinical research studies. The support of research nurses and assistants can be invaluable in this setting. Other strategies to increase research opportunities include having research infrastructure such as readily available patient information sheets and consent forms, data sheets and computer systems with access to detailed bioinformatics. An active R&D department is another helpful way to assist hospital employers with research. This is particularly important in obtaining the required ethical approvals for patient research studies and providing access to patient lay committees for patient-orientated research, such as the designing of research protocols and patient information leaflets. However, one of the greatest challenges in performing nuclear medicine research in clinical practice is obtaining research support. The UK’s National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) schemes have made this easier by directing funds from more fundamental research to patient-orientated studies. A number of NIHR funding streams exist and again, the hospital’s R&D department can assist. A common type of NIHR funding that can be accessed via R&D is Research Capability Funding (RCF), which funds infrastructure such as research coordination or bridging research nurse funding. Another NIHR pathway is ‘Network’ funding, which rewards hospitals and staff for recruiting patients for trials.