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Annual Meeting of European Radiologists Looks to Evolution of Imaging Specialists

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ECR 2011A total of 20,120 radiologists and imaging specialists gathered in Vienna this past week to discuss the state of radiology and catch a glimpse of the future for imaging specialists.

The annual meeting of the European Congress of Radiology kicked off its ECR 2011 meeting Friday, March 3. Aiming to stimulate more interactivity than in years past, Professor Yves Menu chairman of the department of radiology at Saint Antoine Hospital in Paris and this year’s congress president opened the meeting noting that more presentations this year were organized so that one-third of the 90 minute sessions were dedicated to panel discussions.

He emphasized that the main highlights of the meeting would focus on technical and professional advances, not only on improvements in methods such as the quantum leaps in MRI and the fifth dimension in CT, but also on the evolution of the imaging profession.

In terms of the evolution of the imaging profession, Menu said there will be a blurring of the roles in the healthcare team as clinicians begin to be more actively involved in imaging and radiologists will gain greater understanding of clinical challenges. At the same time, imaging modalities are becoming combined to provide hybrid imaging to better understand not just location and scope of disease, but how it develops and how treatments affect the course of disease progression.

A case in point was a panel discussion led by Dr. B. Gomez-Anson, head of the Neuroradiology Unit at Hospital Sant Pau in Barcelona. This discussion focused on the contribution of a variety of imaging modalities in advancing the current understanding and treatment of epilepsy.

Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder with multiple origins that affects an estimated 50 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. One of the more severe forms is intractable epilepsy, which affects only 5 percent of all epilepsy patients but results in a disproportionate amount of suffering and hospitalizations. With this form of epilepsy, seizures can occur as often as every minute and require continuous hospitalization. It is not treatable with drugs, so surgery is the only treatment option.

Gomez-Anson noted that diagnosing and managing epilepsy patients has been made possible through advances in MRI, while multimodality techniques have enabled the acquisition of functional information that may be relevant to surgery and post-surgery follow-up, which is crucial to the diagnosis and treatment of intractable epilepsy.

“If there is a field where imaging has had an impact, it is certainly in patients with intractable epilepsy,” Gómez-Ansón said in prepared materials.

He said that thanks to imaging, physicians now know that intractable epilepsy is mainly caused by non-neoplastic conditions, such as hippocampus sclerosis, or abnormal cortical development resulting from either congenital causes or related to a condition in infancy.

In terms of the blurring of the lines between healthcare roles, the panel discussion on geriatrics led by Professor Giuseppe Guglielmi, of the Department of Radiology University of Foggia Viale L.Pinto focused on the need for radiologists to learn about the most common pathologies among the elderly. The panel discussed the importance of radiologists understanding those pathologies to avoid potential pitfalls that could lead to over treatment and ultimately, to be able to differentiate between the elderly presenting with the normal signs of aging and those who need more care.

“The question is how to be aware of the potential and limits of diagnostic imaging and its applications in geriatric patients,” Guglielmi said.

In the same vein, due to aging populations around the world, radiology has come to play a critical role in oncology diagnosis and treatment. Consequently the panel discussion on radiologists roles in oncology clinical trials was co-led by Professor Paul M. Parizel, radiologist from Antwerp University Hospital and the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) Director General Françoise Meunier.

The EORTC is the biggest European organization involved with clinical trials in oncology patients, with over 300 participating institutions involved in reviewing and evaluating tumor response.

The panel discussed how radiologists were no longer relied on only to evaluate tumor mass and extent, but are now becoming involved in treatment evaluation using multi-parametric imaging techniques to allow accurate evaluation of functional changes, such as blood flow monitoring, cell density and nucleus/cytoplasm ratio estimation, evaluation of the ultra structure of certain tumors and tumor necrosis assessment.

“As it is today, many radiologists don’t have the time or the expertise in clinical trials to apply these new techniques,” Meunier said. “We will need to train them not only to perform these imaging studies but also to learn how to interpret functional imaging data.”

Parizel is convinced of the benefit that could be gained by radiologists from collaboration with EORTC and has been advocating for greater participation in clinical trial design by radiologists.

“So far, radiologists have mainly been called upon to assess the imaging results of trials that were often designed without their input,” he said. “But the clinicians and people involved in the trials might not have understood the full potential of radiology.”

The European Congress of Radiology (ECR) is the annual meeting of the European Society of Radiology (ESR), the fastest growing medical society in the world, currently with 52,106 members according to the group’s websie. This year’s meeting drew delegates from 100 countries to Vienna, and the accompanying technical exhibition included 300 exhibitors spread over 26,000 m2.

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