Past Events - March 5 1998

Beth MacGillivrary photo Beth MacGillivray, a registered nuclear medicine technologist at the Ottawa General Hospital, visited Eastern Manitoba from March 4th to 6th, 1998. She spoke at a University of Manitoba Physics Department colloquium, to students at Kelvin High School (Winnipeg), to the Manitoba Branch of the CNS (AECL Whiteshell Laboratories), to Pinawa Secondary High School, and to a "Science Today" teachers' workshop at Whiteshell Laboratories. Beth went with the teachers "down the mine" (see the fuzzy washed-out photo) - the Underground Research Laboratory (URL) near Lac du Bonnet, where research is done on the deep geologic disposal of used nuclear fuel. CNS Manitoba sponsored Beth's trip out west, but we couldn't have done it without the assistance of AECL (Partners in Education program) and the University of Manitoba Physics Department.

Beth gave very engaging and informative talks, tuned to each audience. One anecdote she related concerned George de Hevesy, the great Hungarian chemist and "grandfather of nuclear medicine". He discovered that small amounts of certain radionuclides were ideal for tracing the movement or dispersion of the larger mass into which the radionuclides were placed. He tried this technique with his landlady, whom he suspected of recycling his leftovers. He put a little Lead-210 in his leftovers one night, and pocketed samples of subsequent meals to take to his laboratory. A few days later his gold leaf electroscope indicated his latest meal contained some of the radiotracer. He confronted his landlady with the evidence, and she promptly evicted him!

Beth brought the human side of nuclear technology to the fore, namely the work she does in diagnostic nuclear medicine. In diagnostic nuclear medicine, medical radionuclides reveal the function (or lack thereof) of various organs (heart, kidney, liver, brain, etc), or bones, or blood supply.

Patients are often surprised they are to be injected with radionuclides, and occasionally refuse the treatment out of fear of anything nuclear. Medical radionuclides are the least intrusive method of diagnosing some types of illness or injury - the emission of beta particles or gamma rays from radioactive decay provides a means of observing certain body functions with no side effects. This is important, since one wants nothing to alter or mask the health problem under study, in order to provide a diagnosis.

Other radionuclides are attached to carrier molecules that concentrate in tumours. Surgeons can use small, sensitive detectors in the operating theatre to determine which cells are cancerous, because the tumour cells have been tagged with radionuclides.

In Pinawa, "The Paper" (March 10 1998) wrote the following about Beth's talk to local high school students:

Bandaids, vitamins and nuclear medicine?

Beth MacGillivray, of the Ottawa General Hospital, treated Pinawa Secondary students to a presentation on Nuclear Medicine Friday morning. The visit was just one stop on a tour that began Wednesday in Winnipeg, culminating Friday at the Underground Research Laboratory. Sponsored by the Manitoba Branch of the Canadian Nuclear Society, it was a wonderful opportunity for students to hear of this fascinating area of medicine and technology. An accomplished speaker, Ms. MacGillivray is a registered Nuclear Medicine Technologist with fourteen years' experience in the field. She received her training at Red River Community College, Winnipeg Health Sciences and University Hospital in Saskatoon.

Covering a wide range of topics, MacGillivray's message was that nuclear technology touches all of our lives in some way every day, and that career choices in this field are not all labcoats, research and PhD's.

The students were transfixed by actual images and video tapes from diagnostic tools that employ nuclear technology to discover the presence of cancers and other abnormalities. MacGillivray explained how everyday items such as bandaids, vitamins and the Red Cross all depend on nuclear technology for sterilization. Nuclear medicine such as radiation treatments are used as therapy for cancer, and even surgical tools are now being developed with nuclear technology, such as gamma knife, which is a non-invasive method of treating cancer.

"We need to understand the science and blend it with kindness and compassion," said MacGillivray in her closing remarks. Her highly informative presentation was particularly inspiring to the young women in the audience.

I also recommend visiting a review of Beth's talk to the Chalk River Branch of the CNS, located here .

[CNS Home Page]