The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

USask leads in medical isotope research

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News Writer

The University of Saskatchewan synchrotron facility, also known as the Canadian Light Source, will be one of four projects around Canada to develop medical isotopes. The project will receive part of a $35 million federal fund.

Used in X-ray imaging and cancer treatment, these tiny radioactive particles have become the backbone of nuclear medicine. Medical isotopes are used in safe, cost-effective imaging and treatment of disease. New technologies enable medical isotopes to be delivered directly to the site of the diseased cells. The energy given off by the isotopes is very effective at zapping diseased cells, according to Mark de Jong, the director of accelerators at the CLS. When these radioactive particles are delivered straight to the cancer cells, healthy tissues are spared while cancer cells are eliminated.

Medical isotopes are made in either accelerators or nuclear reactors and much of the world’s supply is produced in Canada. The National Research Universal reactor in Chalk River, Ont. has been one of the biggest sources of medical isotopes. However, due to its age, the nuclear facility is expected to shut down in five years. According to de Jong, some hospitals in Canada are expected to be facing a shortage of isotopes, and his research team hopes to fill the gap.

Medical isotopes are mainly used in hospitals and other large medical facilities. The isotopes can be used in imaging and are less likely to be absorbed by the body than traditional X-rays.

The CLS will be looking at producing the isotope technetium-99m, which produces clearer images than traditional X-rays and is an essential component of nuclear medicine.

According to de Jong, when there was a shortage of isotopes due to previous shutdown of Chalk River nuclear facility in 2008, hospitals tried using other isotopes. “But they are not as effective and produced fuzzy images,” he said. The medical isotopes produced at the CLS would not pose any environmental concerns because, unlike a nuclear reactor, the new method of production does not require weapons-grade uranium.

The project is currently in its planning stage. Production is expected to start in March 2012 with testing slated for a year later.

The federal government is providing $10 million to this project, while the Saskatchewan government is contributing $2 million.

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image: Flickr

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