The history of BELNUC

Humble beginnings

The Belgian Society of Nuclear Medicine (BSNM, nowadays called ‘BELNUC’) was founded in 1978 by physicians who had previously been involved in an extended partnership with radiation therapy and radiology. The first president was Michel De Roo from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. Nuclear medicine had been practiced in Belgium since the late 1940s and progressively developed as a separate specialty, first in university institutes and later, from the 1970s onwards, in many hospitals. The development of PET scanning began in the early 1980s, purely as a research endeavour.

The path to a distinct medical specialty

Until the mid 1980s, nuclear medicine was considered a companion specialty of internal medicine (with strong links with endocrinology) or radiation therapy. As a consequence of the efforts of pioneers in the country, nuclear medicine became a separate specialty by Royal Decree, in March 1985. Until 1970, the aspects of scientific promotion and professional defence were dealt with by the same group of individuals, organised as a contact group already called the BSNM, which held a first symposium in September 1970.

In view of the recognition of the specialty as such, it appeared that the two roles should ideally be separated, a situation that has prevailed until today. It must be stressed, however, that over the past few years, relations between the professional body (GBS/VBS) and the scientific society have been excellent, with continuous efforts to achieve a consensus and promote the specialty.
The contact group continued to be active after 1970. However, it was not totally independent in promoting the role of radionuclide investigations for (in vivo and in vitro) diagnostics, therapy and research and was granted a limited advisory role to the authorities. Further, only physicians were considered as members, while other important actors within emerging specialties, in particular physicists and technologists, were neglected. Radiopharmacy was confined to the industrial level.

The mission of BELNUC

Since its creation, BELNUC has worked in the following directions: (i) organisation of scientific meetings, in particular promoting research and development by young individuals, (ii) development of quality assessment tools and programs, especially by building up ad hoc or permanent work groups on various topics, (iii) partnership with authorities with regards to the implementation of European Directives and Belgian Law on radiation protection and (iv) relationships with the professional organisation with regards to daily activity, regulations, nomenclature and interpretation thereof.

Open to all

The structure has evolved, and BELNUC is now open to any individual primarily concerned with nuclear medicine. Since 1998, there has been a Technologist section that organises an annual Technologists’ Day dedicated entirely to the continuous education of technical staff. Working groups on physics and radiation protection are active and advise the Board on issues that need to be resolved. As the national society of a small country, the BSNM has often served as a first step for young members to achieve recognition at the European or world level.

In order not to duplicate yearly EANM and SNM meetings, BSNM initially organised one scientific symposium every 3 years; this became a 2-yearly symposium from 2001 on. Interestingly, cooperation with societies from neighbouring countries (France and/or the Netherlands) proved a success on all occasions, i.e. 1989, 1997, 2003, 2005 and 2009. The success of the 2011 Symposium was related to the strenuous efforts of Claudine Als, from Luxemburg, who perfectly organised a gathering of the French, Luxemburgish and Belgian Societies in the city of Luxemburg. Last but not least, the 1995 EANM Congress was organised in Brussels, under the presidency of Michel De Roo. This was the opportunity for a very close partnership between the national society and the organising committee.

Belgian pioneers in nuclear medicine

Who should be recalled as having played a vital role in nuclear medicine in Belgium? Pioneers back in the late 1950s included Georges Merchie (Universite de Liege), Andre Ermans (Universite Libre de Bruxelles), Marc Jonckheer (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) and Michel de Visscher (Universite Catholique de Louvain). Others have played important roles in developing current European nuclear medicine, such as Christian Beckers (Universite Catholique de Louvain), also a founding member of the ESNM, Michel De Roo (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven), Pierre Rigo (Universite de Liege) and, in a special position, Jean-Pol Leonard, who faithfully served both the professional and the scientific society. Further important players in the progress of the BSNM who have also been involved in the development of the EANM include Rudi Dierckx (Rijksuniversiteit Gent), Luc Mortelmans (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) and Roland Hustinx (Universite de Liege).

Belgium and beyond

Currently, several members of BELNUC are also active in various Committees or Task Groups of the EANM. These colleagues and many others have had a tremendous impact on the development of nuclear medicine in Belgium and have provided invaluable service to the scientific society. The future of BELNUC is in the hands of a motivated Board, ready to promote cooperation with the professional organisation and the development of the Technologist section.


Text edited by François Jamar and Kristoff Muylle for the Anniversary book of 25 years of the European Association of Nuclear Medicine (EANM)