Saskatoon

Medical isotopes: Out of Saskatoon's synchrotron, into local patients

Medical isotopes are used in about 6,000 procedures every day in Canada to help healthcare professionals make diagnoses, but the isotopes are in short supply. For years, the supply has been provided by a nuclear reactor in Chalk River, ON, but after a shut-down, researchers began to search for alternatives.

Medical isotopes used in diagnostic medicine are in short supply

Robert Lamb, CEO of Canadian Light Source, says though $1M may seem like a drop in the bucket when it comes to synchotron research, it will help get that research out to the public. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

Medical isotopes, used in about 6,000 procedures every day in Canada to help healthcare professionals make diagnoses, are in short supply.

Now a project using the synchrotron at Saskatoon's Canadian Light Source aims to change that by putting machines that coulddo the final part of isotope production right into hospitals.

"What's so revolutionary about what the Canadian Light Source has done is taking a very large-scale requirement and made it so it can be used in a small-scale production facility," said Robert Lamb, CEO of Canadian Light Source.

For years, isotopes have been supplied by a nuclear reactor in Chalk River, ON, but after a shut-down, researchers began to search for alternatives.

The federal government, through the Western Diversification Program, awarded the CLS $1 million toward the creation of a smaller-scale way to create isotopes. The project is in its final stage.

The process uses a light brighter than the sun - and encompassing every colour - to change material into medical isotopes.

Then, the isotopes can be used as usual.

"It's injected into a patient, and what it does is it hones in on the parts that shouldn't be there," said Lamb.

"When doctors take an x-ray image, you get better contrast and get to see things you wouldn't generally see."

Stepping stone for business

Canadian Isotopes Innovation Corp chair Blair Knippel sees this latest development as a stepping stone. His company hopes to eventually sell and distribute medical isotopes worldwide.
The demand for medical isotopes is so consistent that Saskatoon-based Canadian Isotopes Innovation Corp plans to distribute and sell even beyond Western Canada.

"Our company is trying to take the brilliance of Dr Lamb and the entire board of directors and the team involved in developing the technology, to the market," said Blair Knippel, CIIC chair.

"This is a stepping stone."

Knippel's vision is to keep the isotope production and distribution local for now, fine-tune the process, and go worldwide.

"If people can see the synchotron as more than a beautiful building that sits on campus, they can actually see it as a way to take new ideas into the marketplace," said Knippel.

The new isotope production technology would also make isotopes cheaper and easier to transport across borders.

CIIC plans to be in production locally by 2021, distributing to nuclear medicine departments nearby.

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