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$5M funding supports improved isotope production at CHUS


Sherbrooke, QC – The Centre de recherche clinique Étienne – Le Bel (CRCELB) of the Centre hospitalier universitaire de Sherbrooke (CHUS) says it will receive $5 million in funding out of an $11 million project headed up by Advanced Cyclotron System (ACSI) in Vancouver, in association with the Edmonton Radiopharmacy Centre (ERC), for the project entitled Commercializing Cyclotron Production of 99mTc in Canada.

Chair of the CHUS Board of Directors, Jacques Fortier, says it will enable the hospital and its clinical research centre to maintain a competitive edge in research both nationally and internationally.

“With our Vancouver and Edmonton partners, we will push forward the technological development of cyclotrons for producing the technetium-99m (99mTc) radioisotope,” he says. “The CRCELB could be in a position to secure the 99mTc supply for a large part of the province of Quebec.”

The cyclotron project is part of a Natural Resources Canada program that lays the foundation for a more reliable and sustainable supply of 99mTc over the medium and long terms, paving the way to reducing dependence on reactor-produced isotopes.

The May 2009 closure of the Chalk River nuclear reactor in Ontario caused a technetium shortage that caused grave concern among many nuclear-medicine specialists, primarily in North America, because the situation delayed many diagnostic procedures that were deemed urgent. During this crisis, CHUS demonstrated that 99mTc produced with their low-energy cyclotron, TR-19, provided results in all aspects equivalent to 99mTc derived from a nuclear reactor. See story here.

“The cyclotron is a modern, proven, and safe technology that requires no highly enriched uranium and produces no nuclear waste,” said Dr Lecomte, scientific head of CRCELB and the Université de Sherbrooke Molecular Imaging team and Université de Sherbrooke professor. He added that cyclotrons represent “a sustainable more ecological solution.”

“Completion of the research and development leading to large-scale production of technetium required a larger vault to accommodate additional irradiation stations,” he said. “We also had to increase the capacity of ACSI’s TR-24 cyclotron, which, initially, was only intended to produce isotopes for positron emission tomography (PET). In addition, laboratories adjacent to the vault had to be built and equipped to extract and prepare the technetium produced by the new cyclotron.”

The vault housing the new cyclotron is part of the CHUS’ CRCELB’s expansion project was announced in June 2010.

The $5 million from Natural Resources Canada will provide for upgrading of the planned facilities through the addition of workspaces for researchers, which will enable them to step up their work related specifically to cyclotron-produced technetium-99m. Facility expansion will cost an estimated $1.5 million, while $2.9 million of the Natural Resources Canada funding will be used to upgrade the TR-24 cyclotron and purchase equipment. The remaining $600,000 will go to support research.

Vault construction will begin in spring 2011 and be completed during the summer. Research and development studies for large-scale production are slated to start in early fall, once the new TR-24 cyclotron-whose delivery is planned for June-is installed and put into operation.

The CHUS’ older TR-19 cyclotron will be kept in operation as a backup system to support research and ensure isotope production for positron emission tomography (PET) when the main cyclotron is undergoing maintenance or repair.

Technetium-99m (99mTc), which has a half-life of six hours, is the most frequently used radioisotope in nuclear medicine. It is currently produced with nuclear reactors from its parent isotope, molybdenum-99 (99Mo), which has a half-life of 67 hours. 99mTc is used in medical imaging in diagnosing heart, thyroid, brain, lung, liver, kidney, spleen, and bone-marrow diseases and for cancer screening.