Non-invasive diagnostic procedures, image-guided minimally invasive therapeutic procedures, research advances in the field of radiology, increased patient comfort and improved disease detection were the central topics as U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez visited The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and University Hospital on July 31.
Rep. Gonzalez learned about progress in the field from William L. Henrich, M.D., M.A.C.P., dean of the School of Medicine and vice president for medical affairs at the Health Science Center, and Gerald D. Dodd III, M.D., professor and chair of the department of radiology. Rep. Gonzalez toured the hospital’s MRI suite, which has a magnet with a field strength of 3 Tesla and another with a field strength of 1.5 Tesla. George Hernandez, president and chief executive officer of the University Health System, also accompanied Rep. Gonzalez on the tour.
The congressman visited a neuroradiology reading room where physicians view images on computers and dictate reports by voice recognition. The system enables almost immediate reports after each session for faster care of patients.
Dr. Dodd informed the congressman about high-tech imaging and image-guided therapy. His presentation included the amazing step forward presented by 64-slice cardiac CT scanning, which provides exquisite detail of the arteries of the heart after the simple insertion of an IV line and the injection of radiographic contrast material or “dye.” The new, totally non-invasive system enables radiologists to view three-dimensional images of the coronary arteries. The entire scan takes less than five minutes and provides immediate data for clinical review. “At University Hospital, we have this wonderful technology, which I believe in the next couple of years will become a critical element in the evaluation of patients with acute chest pain,” Dr. Dodd said.
Dr. Dodd also discussed 64-slice CT colonography, which is a new non-invasive way to search for colon polyps. Up to now, it has been done with an instrument called a colonoscope and has been fairly time consuming. The new procedure lasts about five minutes and no conscious sedation is necessary, reducing time and costs. “The latest research shows that detection of polyps by CT rivals that of the colonoscope,” Dr. Dodd told the congressman.
Dr. Dodd next moved to radiofrequency thermal ablation of liver tumors, a procedure introduced to San Antonio and developed over the last decade by Health Science Center radiologists in collaboration with the surgery department. In this technique, a needle with alternating electrical current is placed through the skin and into a liver tumor. The needle tip literally heats the liver tumor, cooking it. RF thermal ablation is especially valuable as an alternative treatment technique because it can be repeated as necessary to treat the high rate of tumor recurrence seen in these patients. The technique is most effective in the treatment of patients with tumors smaller than 5 centimeters in diameter, Dr. Dodd said.
Dr. Dodd finished with a rundown of molecular imaging, such as PET-CT scanning, which reveals not only the presence of abnormal biological activity, but also its precise location. The goals of molecular imaging are to detect disease at the molecular level or earliest possible stage, to develop new therapies based on molecular targets, and to monitor therapy effectiveness, he said.
Rep. Gonzalez said all professionals in medicine need to speak with one voice to legislators about the importance of health care to the nation.