Gamma camera could stop wars, detect cancer

Tuesday - 11/23/2010, 10:15am EST

Ralph James, Group Leader for Radiation Detection Research and Development, Brookhaven National Laboratory, NNSA

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By Vyomika Jairam
Federal News Radio

Scientists at the National Nuclear Security Administration have created something called a "gamma camera." The device can both prevent nuclear weapons proliferation and detect cancer.

The gamma camera has medical, industrial, scientific, environmental, and homeland security applications.

Ralph James is the group leader for Radiation Detection Research and Development and senior scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, which receives a portion of its funding from the National Nuclear Security Administration.

"The work in radiation detection is about developing a new class of sensors," James said. "Sensors that can detect x-rays and gamma rays with high sensitivity, that can be made very compact in size, and that have the ability to identify the isotopes that are responsible for the source of that radiation."

The technology can be applied in detecting nuclear isotopes in the field with small instruments; and while currently detection instruments must be used in low temperatures, the gamma camera wouldn't have that same restriction. The technology can also be used in nuclear medicine to detect deep tissue and internal organ abnormalities.

In addition, the gamma camera developed by the Brookhaven Laboratory has approximately five to 10 times the spatial resolution to the existing technology.

The gamma camera was initially designed for the early diagnosis of prostate cancer. The technology was then awarded the 2010 North American Frost & Sullivan Award for Technology Innovation of the Year.

The camera is inserted into the body after a radioactive dye is injected, and much like other imaging procedures, detects where the radioactive dye is absorbed into diseased tissue. But the difference with the gamma camera, James said, is that the camera actually captures an image of the radiation emitted.

"The same type of image that is important whether or not it is a diseased area within some organ of the human body or if it is material that could form the heart of a nuclear weapon," James said. "That's why this technology has application in both of these spaces."