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The University of Saskatchewan and the Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation marked a major achievement for nuclear medicine research in the province with completion of construction on campus of the Saskatchewan Centre for Cyclotron Sciences.
Construction of the $25-million facility, funded by the Government of Saskatchewan and the Harper Government, began in August, 2013.
At the heart of the new centre is a state-of-the-art TR24 cyclotron, a Canadian-built particle accelerator that produces radioisotopes for medical and biological research and for use in PET-CT (Positron Emission Tomography-Computed Tomography) scanners to diagnose diseases such as cancer. The radioisotopes will be processed on-site in a specialized pharmaceutical laboratory.
With construction now complete, final installation of equipment and commissioning of the SCCS now begins. The first isotopes for research are expected to be produced by April 2015 and testing will continue over the summer to meet the licensing requirements of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. It is anticipated the facility will begin producing isotopes for medical care by November, 2016.
Where do medical isotopes come from?
Generally speaking, medical isotopes come either from nuclear reactors or special particle accelerators known as cyclotrons. Tc-99m comes from the parent atom Molybdenum-99 or simply Mo-99. Mo-99 is produced in nuclear reactors (such as Canada's NRU reactor at Chalk River) by irradiating highly enriched "weapons-grade" uranium (U-235). The Mo-99 has a fairly long half-life (it takes on average 66 hours for half of a sample of Mo-99 to decay to Tc-99m). The Tc-99m is used at the hospitals all over North America to create the radiopharmaceuticals used in patients.
Food irradiated by exposing it to the gamma rays of a radioisotope -- one that is widely used is cobalt-60. The energy from the gamma ray passing through the food is enough to destroy many disease-causing bacteria as well as those that cause food to spoil, but is not strong enough to change the quality, flavor or texture of the food. It is important to keep in mind that the food never comes in contact with the radioisotope and is never at risk of becoming radioactive.