Progress through teamwork: 2 key collaborations between radiologists, scientists

Collaborating with various scientific disciplines has been essential for radiology’s growth over the years, according to a recent analysis published in Academic Radiology. Without the specialty reaching out and working with scientists in these other fields, it’s hard to imagine radiology as we know it today even existing.

“This relationship between clinical medicine and imaging technology, nurtured and fostered over the past 75 years, has cultivated extraordinarily rich collaborative opportunities between basic scientists, engineers, and physicians both within academia and between academic scientists and imaging equipment scientists and manufacturers,” wrote lead author John-Paul J. Yu, MD, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison, and colleagues.

In their analysis, Yu et al. ran through numerous instances of how radiologists and scientists work together and emphasized the importance of these collaborations continuing in the years ahead. These are two examples they wrote about at length:

1. Collaborations in Medical Physics

As the authors explained, medical imaging research has often been separated into two categories. “In the first, imaging scientists sought to both develop and refine technologies to image the human body with higher spatial resolution and increased signal-to-noise ratios,” they wrote. “In the second, clinical imaging research in radiology was devoted toward describing new imaging findings and understanding the correlation of these findings with disease pathophysiology.”

As research has continued on modalities such as CT, MRI and PET, working with medical physicists has remained integral to the specialty’s success. The rise of digital breast tomosynthesis, for example, and the development of advanced algorithms can be traced back to these collaborations.

Yu and colleagues also looked ahead to what collaborations between radiology and medical physics may look like in the years ahead. “After numerous years of rapid innovation in concert with improved image quality, resolution, and speed of acquisition, future advances in biomedical imaging will see increased emphasis on extracting information from beyond the pure confines of anatomic and structural imaging,” they wrote.

This relationship may lead to a better understanding of the connections between imaging and pathology, the authors noted, as long as the two “highly independent” fields can continue to work side by side.

2. Collaborations in Informatics

As data sets get bigger and bigger, the authors explained, research “conducted collaboratively between basic scientists and radiologists” is a necessity. Such research has already had a significant impact on technologies and workflow in medical imaging, of course, but there is still much that can done.

Yu et al. noted that informatics research represents an opportunity for trainees, including radiology residents, clinical fellows and medical students, to get involved in the research process. “As daily users of numerous radiology informatics systems, residents will often be the first to recognize gaps in information and informatics workflows, enabling them to foresee potential gains in workflow, the accuracy of diagnosis, and the ease of teaching through improved informatics systems,” the authors wrote. “Informatics research is also more amenable to schedule flexibility than benchtop or animal research and therefore may be easier to blend with the demanding clinical schedule of a busy resident.”

Pointing to PACS technologies, CAD and deep learning/AI as areas where radiologists have successfully collaborated with basic scientists, the authors also looked at challenges facing such research. For example, HIPAA privacy regulations can hold researchers back if they don’t use the right technologies to anonymize all images and patient data.