Funding boosts UAlberta research in race for new isotopes

(Edmonton) The race to secure a viable, non-nuclear replacement supply of medical imaging isotopes isn’t over, but a new funding announcement from Natural Resources Canada will help push a team of University of Alberta researchers toward a significant milestone.

This morning, the Honourable Joe Oliver, Canada’s minister of natural resources, announced a $7-million contribution to U of A researcher Sandy McEwan and his team’s work on testing the viability of using cyclotron-produced isotopes to replace the supply chain of isotopes currently produced at Canada’s Chalk River reactor.

This contribution will provide for project research from testing and clinical trials through to completion of the regulatory process that would approve the use of these isotopes for imaging in cardiac and cancer patients across the province. As work to complete the refitted Balmoral Centre nears completion, researchers will commence their work on producing the technetium-99m isotope using the new 24 mega-electron-volt circular particle accelerator.

Oliver, noting the important research being accomplished with McEwan and his team’s work, as well as that of colleagues at Advanced Cyclotron Systems Inc. and the Centre hospitalier universitaire de Sherbrooke, spoke optimistically of the very real potential of this model providing a non-nuclear solution in delivering the critical medical isotope.

"The Harper Government is working to find new ways of producing medical isotopes used in diagnosing various diseases such as cancer and heart disease," said the minister. "The project with the University of Alberta to commercialize non-reactor-based production of isotopes aims to ensure Canadians have access to the isotopes they need, while creating jobs."

The funding for McEwan’s cyclotron research project—which has already achieved success in producing compatible, safe isotopes using a cyclotron—now affords them the confidence and provides for the resources necessary to conclude their research and position the product as a model for similar cyclotron centres to be built.

“This funding provides a real opportunity for the University of Alberta to demonstrate and validate a new, cost-effective and safe means of medical isotope supply that does not require the construction of a new nuclear reactor,” said McEwan. “It is a true made-in-Canada solution.”

Read the announcement from Natural Resources Canada