Cyclotron facility revolutionizes medical isotope manufacturing

(Edmonton) The University of Alberta officially opened a new cyclotron facility that will advance health care for Albertans and Canadians by providing a reliable supply of medical isotopes for diagnostic imaging.

The Medical Isotope and Cyclotron Facility at the U of A's south campus houses a $28-million cyclotron research and production facility that will produce clinical-quality technetium-99m, an important isotope used for 80 per cent of nuclear medicine diagnostic procedures. Once fully operational, the facility will revolutionize how medical isotopes are manufactured for routine clinical use-establishing the U of A as a centre of excellence in medical cyclotron research.

"The University of Alberta's Medical Isotope and Cyclotron Facility will create a steady supply of medical isotopes used to help patients with cancer, cardiac, neurological and other diseases across Alberta and Canada," said Sandy McEwan, lead researcher, professor and chair of the Department of Oncology at the U of A.

"These isotopes are not only safe and reliable for patients, they are also cost-effective to produce, and this research and academic facility will provide a model for similar cyclotron centres nationally and internationally."

The Medical Isotope and Cyclotron Facility was made possible through $10.9 million in funding from the Government of Canada, including $7 million from Natural Resources Canada and $3 million from Western Economic Diversification Canada.

"I am so pleased to celebrate the grand opening of the University of Alberta's new Medical Isotope and Cyclotron Facility," said Rona Ambrose, minister of public works and government services and minister for the status of women.

"This new facility will further create new opportunities for world-class researchers here in Alberta and high-quality jobs through innovation."

The Government of Alberta contributed a total of $5.4 million for the cyclotron project. That is over and above $18.4 million in funding provided by Alberta Health Services to create a new central radiopharmacy, also housed in the centre.

McEwan, also associate director of research at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton, said the cyclotron is currently being commissioned but should be licensed and fully operational within a few months.

It's expected the facility will be in full production in the second quarter of 2014, a development that will help ensure the country has a reliable supply of medical isotopes to fill the void of the 2016 closure of the Chalk River reactor.

"Our facility will give Canadians the confidence that there will be a safe, secure supply of medical isotopes for the next 20 years," he said.

The U of A facility joins a similar site at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Sherbrooke, both of which utilized technology developed by Advanced Cyclotron Systems Inc., with additional cyclotrons planned for Saskatoon and Thunder Bay, and likely more as evidence is gathered.

Video: Sandy McEwan narrates a walkthrough of the facility