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BC Cancer Agency to lead $1.3-million program evaluating medical-isotope alternatives


Vancouver, BC – Together with TRIUMF and other partners, the BC Cancer Agency (BCCA) has received a $1.3-million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to develop an alternative source of medical isotopes. The BC grant is the largest out of seven nationally funded projects.

In the face of a worldwide supply shortage of the key medical isotope Technetium-99m (Tc-99m), the grant will enable BCCA, TRIUMF and a team of researchers from Edmonton, Sherbrooke, and London (Ontario) to collaborate on a two-year research project to determine if medical isotopes produced from cyclotrons can be a viable alternative to isotopes produced using nuclear reactors. The BC-led team will develop methods to produce technetium using cyclotrons instead of nuclear reactors.

The grant was announced today by Health Canada as part of a $5.4-million research program called Alternative Radiopharmaceuticals for Medical Imaging. The project will be led by co-principal investigators Dr Francois Bénard, scientific director of the Centre of Excellence for Functional Cancer Imaging at the BC Cancer Agency, and Dr Thomas J Ruth, senior research scientist at TRIUMF and senior scientist at the BC Cancer Agency. Dr Bénard holds the BC Leadership Chair in Functional Cancer Imaging and is a professor of radiology at the University of British Columbia.

“Finding alternatives to reactor produced medical isotopes is vital to staying ahead of the supply curve and meeting the health needs of patients,” said Dr Bénard. “Producing technetium radioisotopes from cyclotrons could be a safe, reliable and cost-effective alternative to using material produced in nuclear reactors.”

With an estimated 1.5 million nuclear medicine procedures performed annually in Canada and over 80 per cent of all nuclear medicine investigations involving technetium radiopharmaceuticals, the funding announcement comes at a time when the demand for medical isotope alternatives has never been greater. Recent isotope shortages have made the need for researching alternative manufacturing processes essential. It is expected that this research will lead to clinical studies within two years to validate new production methods.

“We’re thrilled to be working with the leading cancer agency in Canada and some of the best minds in Canada on this research program,” said Dr Nigel Lockyer, TRIUMF director. “We each bring something unique to the table. Together, we will find solutions to this problem that will work for Canadians and even the world. “

Conventional medical cyclotron machines are already being used to produce radioisotopes for many diagnostic procedures. Construction of a cyclotron lab is underway at the BC Cancer Agency.

The BC Cancer Foundation and the government of British Columbia each contributed $2.25 million to establish a permanent endowment fund to support the BC Leadership Chair in Functional Cancer Imaging, held by Dr Bénard.

TRIUMF is Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics. Located on the south campus of the University of British Columbia, TRIUMF is owned and operated as a joint venture by a consortium of the following Canadian universities, via a contribution through the National Research Council Canada: University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, University of Calgary, Carleton University, University of Guelph, University of Manitoba, McMaster University, Université de Montréal, Queen’s University, University of Regina, Simon Fraser University, Saint Mary’s University, University of Toronto, University of Victoria, York University.