A cyclotron is a type of compact particle accelerator which produces radioactive isotopes that can be used for imaging procedures. Stable, non-radioactive isotopes are put into the cyclotron which accelerates charged particles (protons) to high energy in a magnetic field. When the stable isotopes react with the particle beam, a nuclear reaction occurs between the protons and the target atoms, creating radioactive isotopes for nuclear medicine and other purposes.
Radioisotopes used in medicine do not stay radioactive for very long. For this reason, the laboratory must be close to both the cyclotron that produces the isotopes and the end user – in this case, Royal University Hospital’s nuclear medicine department.
What is it used for?
In addition to producing the imaging isotopes used for the PET-CT scanner at the RUH, the laboratory undertakes animal and human health imaging and research and crop/plant imaging and research.
The facility is also the site for research into development of new compounds – called radiopharmaceuticals – that can lead to improved detection, diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancers, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. By tagging specific biomolecules with radioisotopes, scientists can track the processes that can lead to diseases in specific organs, based on how the ‘tagged’ molecules are absorbed.
Other areas of research include physics related to the production of new radioisotopes using the cyclotron and the design of more sensitive radiation detectors.
Students, faculty and researchers from a wide array of disciplines and industry partners research solutions to complex problems, and health professionals are trained in the most advanced imaging and treatment protocols.
The Radioisotope Laboratory
The radioisotope laboratory is specially designed to enable researchers to work safely with radioactive materials, separating them from the cyclotron targets and preparing them for use in radiopharmaceuticals or experiments.
Much of the work is done using remote systems inside shielded chambers called ‘hot cells.’ As many of the radioisotopes are intended for use in medical imaging or clinical research, the laboratory also meets stringent standards for the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, known as Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).