August 9, 2007

HSC Winnipeg to Acquire Cyclotron

Hospital Can Double the Annual Number of PET Scans

Winnipeg - Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg will be able to double the number of PET/CT scans it performs annually, thanks to the acquisition of a $5 million Cyclotron, scheduled to be installed early next year. "This will greatly improve the Manitobans' access to the PET/CT scanner, which will result in quicker and better patient care," Dr. Brian Postl, President and CEO of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said.

The PET/CT is non-invasive imaging technology that allows examination of metabolic activity in the brain, heart, liver, tumors and muscle tissues. The HSC's PET/CT is one of the most technologically advanced units in North America, providing higher resolution and greater accuracy than previously possible.

Currently, the PET/CT uses radiosotopes, flown in from Edmonton, to do the scans. "The ability to produce these isotopes at the HSC will effectively double the hospital's capacity to provide scanning services to patients," Dr. Blake McClarty, Medical Director of the WRHA Diagnostic Imaging Program, said.

The radiosotopes have a half-life of about two hours, he explained. "And so the flight schedules, inclement weather and Edmonton's ability to inspect the cargo before take-off, all limit our ability to utilize the PET/CT scanner to its full potential."

Having an on-site cyclotron will also mean that radiosotopes can be produced at any time during the day, allowing the hospital to book more patients, Dr.Sandor Demeter, Co-Medical Director of the PET/CT program, said. "It also means that we can produce an expanded array of isotopes, including ones with shorter half lives. That means we will be able to use the PET/CT scanner for a greater number of procedures. It also greatly expands our research capability."

PET imaging is unique in that it allows physicians to label the building blocks of life (e.g. organic molecules such sugars, fats, proteins, and hormones) which can be used to detect subtle changes in the body's physiology, Dr. Demeter said.

"PET is one of the most sensitive ways of detecting early cancer or diseases of the brain related to dementia. Currently we are only able to use imported radiolabeled sugar. This is like a pharmacy only having one product on the shelf. With an onsite cyclotron the number of different tracers that we can produce is only limited by the imagination. We will be part of the cutting edge of the emerging field of 'molecular medicine'. This will greatly enhance our ability to detect, monitor and assess treatment response for a vast array of cancers and other diseases. We will also have world class research capabilities."

HSC's Chief Operating Officer, Dr. Brock Wright, said the Cyclotron has already positively impacted the hospital's ability to recruit and retain more of the best and the brightest medical staff, while providing Manitobans with access to the most innovative health care technology in the world.

Dr. Wright noted that Winnipeg is one of the few cities in North American that will have the combination of a GAMMA-knife, PET/CT-scanner, Artiste and Cyclotron. "So this will solidify HSC Winnipeg as a centre for excellence for innovation in health care."

The Great-West Life PET/CT Centre at HSC

The PET/CT is non-invasive, imaging technology that allows examination of metabolic activity in the brain, heart, liver, tumors and muscle tissue. The Health Sciences Centre has one of the most advanced units in North America. Patients are injected with trace amounts of radioactive isotopes, most commonly sugar, before PET imaging. These isotopes are produced in a machine called a medical cyclotron. We currently get our PET isotopes produced by a cyclotron in Edmonton.

The ability to produce these isotopes in Winnipeg will greatly enhance our ability to accommodate the growing demand for PET imaging. On site production will also reduce the impact of not getting isotopes due to airline disruptions (e.g. bad weather) or production failures in Edmonton. That means, maintaining short wait times - our current wait times are less than two weeks - reducing barriers to getting the isotope and expanding our ability to provide cutting edge high quality patient care.

Other benefits include the expansion of research programs at the Siemens Institute for Advanced Medicine, and an enhanced ability to attract top researchers and clinicians. The economic advantages of this technology will also be leveraged. In bringing this technology to HSC, we open the door for other hospitals in Manitoba to secure their own PET scanners, with a guaranteed local supply of the isotopes they will need.

The Great-West Life PET/CT Centre at HSC (named in acknowledgement of a half million dollar donation from The Great-West Life Assurance Company Ltd.) will positively impact the diagnosis and treatment of our patients. Access to a variety of isotopes will encourage increased innovation. Attracting and retaining clinicians and scientists will mean our already world-class nuclear medicine program will grow.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a PET/CT Scanner?
Positron Emission Tomography (PET) is a non-invasive, imaging technology that allows examination of metabolic activity in the brain, heart, liver, tumors and muscle tissue. It can help detect diseases weeks or months before symptoms appear, while the patient is comfortable, conscious and alert.

HSC's PET is combined with Computed Tomography (CT), providing higher resolution and greater accuracy than previously possible. Our combined PET/CT is one of the most advanced imaging technologies available in North America.

What is a cyclotron?
A cyclotron is the partner technology to the Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scanner. It is the technology that produces the radioisotope that is used to image patients during a PET scan. The radioisotopes produced by the cyclotron have a half life ranging from 2 minutes to 110 minutes, which necessitates production on-site for the shorter half life isotopes. A cyclotron operates by spinning charged particles in ever expanding circles until they hit a target producing the desired isotope This technology is similar to "linear accelerators" used by Cancer Care MB to treat cancer patients. Although the cyclotron produces radiation when it is turned on the unit itself is enclosed in lead and concrete shielding such that there is no increase to natural background radiation levels for those who work or live around or near the cyclotron facility. Cyclotrons are tightly regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to ensure that there is no radiation risk to workers, the public or the environment.

What is our current procedure for securing radioisotopes?
Every day before noon a plane arrives from Edmonton with one day's worth of PET imaging radioisotopes for use in the Health Science Centre's Great-West Life PET / CT Centre. These isotopes are used to image patients during a PET / CT scan.

PET imaging radioisotopes are produced by a cyclotron - the closest accessible one is in Edmonton. The isotopes have a half life ranging from 2 minutes to 110 minutes, so they have to be flown in daily. Even then, we can only access isotopes with the longest half life. Otherwise they would not be effective by the time they arrived on-site.

If the plane's flight is cancelled or delayed, we do not get the product we need. That means procedures have to be rescheduled. Diagnosis and treatments are delayed. Patients continue to wait.

An on-site cyclotron will change all this.

Who are Dr. Shadreck Mzengeza and Dr. Andrew Goertzen?
Dr. Mzengeza and Dr. Goertzen are two leading investigators and scientists, recently recruited to HSC because Great-West Life generously invested in the tools they need to do their job. The result for patient care: impact and innovation.

For more information contact:
Heidi Graham
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Tele: (204) 926-7178
Cell:  (204) 223-9089

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