New molecular imaging society fails to inspire clinicians

August 1, 2006

Assessing implications for radiologists is no simple task

The inaugural meeting of the European Society for Molecular Imaging should have been a highly significant event. The organizers' aim was to bring together academics, clinicians, biotechnologists, and industry representatives to promote the development and application of molecular imaging.

The creation of the new society should have signaled the emergence of this field and heightened awareness, but the event will probably be remembered for its poor attendance, particularly among healthcare professionals. There were around 300 delegates, of whom only a few were radiologists. The Natural History Museum in Paris was the venue, but the magnificent dinosaur exhibits must have felt a little lonely during the three days in mid-May. Judged on this performance, the ESMI might soon follow the dinosaurs into extinction.

The meeting did not seem to be well promoted. For instance, I did not find out about it until the end of June, when a Web search led me by chance to the homepage of one of the organizers. There appears to have been little or no media coverage of the conference, which is a wasted opportunity.

Behind the new society are some research networks supported by the European Commission, notably EMIL (European Molecular Imaging Laboratories) and DIMI (Diagnostic Molecular Imaging). The virtual absence of radiologists probably occurred because radiological associations had little or no input. ECR 2006 should have provided an ideal opportunity to galvanize support for the event, but no such attempt seems to have been made.

There is an urgent need for an effective organization that can address the confusion that surrounds molecular imaging's definition, future shape, and implications for clinical practice. A large volume of research and collaboration is under way across the globe, but few people really understand the impact of recent developments on the future role of radiologists.

Molecular imaging is aimed at testing novel tools and methods to image specific molecular pathways in vivo, targeting key areas in the disease process. It promises earlier disease detection and visualization of cancers at the molecular and genetic levels, and it can enable quantification of images in a rapid, reproducible, and noninvasive way. Molecular imaging requires a fresh approach, however, because it involves exploiting specific molecules as a source of image contrast.

To date, most activity has focused on molecular genetic imaging, or indirect molecular imaging. This originates from the sequencing of the human genome and the development of molecular biological and biotechnological assays. Radiology must evolve to meet the changing needs of medicine in the molecular era. Direct molecular imaging covers most nuclear medicine applications and has existed since the 1970s.

Readers of our Molecular Imaging Outlook supplement will be familiar with these issues. If you have not received copies, back editions are available on our Web site. They will help you understand the evolution of molecular imaging.