Marie Curie and nuclear medicine

Intelligent X-rays and sparks of light

Antoine Henri Becquerel in laboratoryFondazione Bracco


The French scientist Antoine Henri Becquerel discovered radioactivity by chance in 1896, while he was studying the phosphorescence of uranium salts. He noticed that by putting them in contact with a photographic plate, they left a print there without having been exposed to light. In this same period Marie Curie, the wife of his colleague Pierre Curie, asked if she could work with him on his research.

Fluorescence of uranium saltsFondazione Bracco

Pierre and Marie CurieFondazione Bracco

Marie Curie

By means of new studies and experiments, Marie Curie confirmed Becquerel’s theory, giving the phenomenon the name “radioactivity”. Thanks to this discovery, Marie Curie, her husband Pierre and Becquerel shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903.

Nucleare medicineFondazione Bracco

Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine is a diagnostic technique based on the principle of radioactivity. Its fundamental difference when compared to other techniques is that here the process is inverted. It is no longer the machine which emits radiation, but the patient himself. Prior to the medical examination the patient is given a radioactive substance known as  a “radiotracer”, which emits a “signal” measured by extremely sensitive equipment, which can amplify it, process it and convert it into an image. The amount of radiation absorbed during a nuclear medicine scan is low, comparable to or less than that of an X-ray.

Intelligent radiotracerFondazione Bracco

The radioactive pharmaceutical, administered to the patient prior to the nuclear medicine scan, acts in different ways in helping diagnosis. Some radiopharmaceuticals, for example, allow the tracking of the biological processes. Others have been designed to study the correct functioning of the organs and the systems where the radiopharmaceutical is localised.

Radiodiagnostic product for SPECT nuclear imaging, From the collection of: Fondazione Bracco
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Radiodiagnostic product for imaging of gall-bladder and liverFondazione Bracco

A scintilla of lightFondazione Bracco

A scintilla of light

Scintigraphy is one of the most widespread of nuclear medical examinations. Its name derives from the Latin “scintilla”, meaning spark or luminous point, and refers to those small particles of light, called photons, which can be detected by nuclear medicine apparatus. Scintigraphy provides an extraordinarily precise map of how organs function. The examination can prematurely identify inflammatory processes, either pathological or degenerative. The light signals that are emitted are then amplified many times over by the system to allow better observation. Then a complex processing of data provides an image.

SPECTFondazione Bracco

In diagnostic imaging, tomography with single-photon emission is better known as SPECT, Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography. This highly evolved technique analyzes parts of the body at various “levels” and has a vast range of applications, predominantly in analyzing the functionality of the heart and brain in, for example, functional neurology, the science which studies degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

PET, From the collection of: Fondazione Bracco
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Positron Emission Tomography, or PET, is a type of nuclear medicine examination which provides information about the body’s metabolism. PET has been extremely useful in the field of oncology due to its detailed representations of tumours, allowing for both early diagnosis and an accurate evaluation of the progress of treatment.

Credits: Story

The previous contents are taken from the exhibition:
The Beauty of Imaging
Triennale di Milano
Milan, 27th May – 2nd July 2017

The exhibition was promoted by Bracco Group on the occasion of its 90th anniversary. It was curated by FeelRouge Worldwide Shows with the artistic supervision of Marco Balich and concept & design by Giò Forma Studio.

After the Milanese edition, attended by more than 10,000 visitors, The Beauty of Imaging was then hosted at the Città della Scienza in Naples (10 October 2018 - 6 January 2019), where it took an educational stance with 5 workshops dedicated to schools: “A terrestrial X-Ray”, “See the invisible”, “Molecules in movement”, “Looking for magnetic resonance, X-Rays, ultrasounds of artists!” and “The thousand lives of imaging: a journey between art and science”.
The Beauty of Imaging has thus become the greatest educational event ever done on diagnostic imaging, welcoming over 55,000 people, including many schools/elementary school students.

Thanks to the institutions, museums and authorities that granted access to the resources and archives.
Thanks for the cooperation in the content’s creation to:
Bracco Imaging
CDI – Italian Diagnostic Centre
Bracco Foundation
Bracco historic archive
C&I Department, Bracco Group

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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