November 8, 2010

Region launches $5 million cyclotron

Local isotope production enhances patient care

The new $5 million cyclotron at the Winnipeg Health Region's Health Sciences Centre was officially opened today.

The machine produces radioisotopes for research, innovation and patient care.

Further Reading
How does a cyclotron work?
What is the Kleysen Institute?
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The opening of the new cyclotron facility doubles the hospital's capacity to provide Positron Emission Tomography scans, and ensures Winnipeg's ability attract and retain top biomedical researchers.

Steven Fletcher, Minister of State for Democratic Reform and MP for Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia, led the official opening of the new facility, which is located on the lower level of the Kleysen Institute for Advanced Medicine, 710 William Ave.

"Prior to the cyclotron opening at HSC, the isotopes had to be flown in from Edmonton, and were at the mercy of the weather and other factors delaying the flights leaving Edmonton," said Fletcher. "This state-of-the-art technology is a key component in securing the Kleysen Institute's position as a global leader in research and innovation."

The cyclotron produces radioisotopes used for Positron Emission Tomography (PET), a non-invasive imaging technology that allows examination of metabolic activity in the brain, heart, liver, tumours and muscle tissue. The isotopes produced by the cyclotron have a half-life of approximately two hours.

Click here to read more on how the cyclotron works.

Previously, the isotopes used in HSC's PET and CT scanner were flown in each day from Edmonton, and given the time frame for the flight, often arrived in Winnipeg too late for their use. The ability to produce these isotopes at HSC:

  • Reduces the need to reschedule patient appointments as a result of flight delays.

  • Allows HSC to use the PET / CT scanner for a greater variety of procedures.

  • Enhances expansion of related research programs and partnerships.

"We are fortunate to have strong partnerships with government, industry and our community to support research undertakings that will ultimately enrich our knowledge and enhance the care we provide," said Real Cloutier, Chief Operating Officer of the Winnipeg Health Region. "The link between research and clinical care is most important. It allows us to improve patient care."

In addition, the cyclotron enables researchers at HSC, the universities of Manitoba and Winnipeg, along with the National Research Institute and CancerCare Manitoba, to explore and develop new applications for diagnosis and treatment of diseases like Alzheimer's and congestive heart failure.

The cyclotron produces a tracer called fluorinated glucose (FDG), which is a type of sugar. This FDG sugar is injected into patients to help identify the presence of cancer.

"If we run the cyclotron for 70 minutes, we produce around 40 to 50 gigabecquerels of fluorine-18, which is converted to approximately 25 GBq of fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) sugar, which is the tracer," said Dr. Shadreck Mzengeza, director of the cyclotron facility. "That amount of tracers allows us to run the PET scanner for most of the day."

Cancer cells generally require more energy than normal tissues and the FDG sugar is taken up as a form of energy. Specialists review the PET/CT scan to help determine the presence of cancer, if the cancer has spread, and whether or not the cancer has responded to therapy. The results allow patients to get the most appropriate treatment and follow-up.

"Ninety-nine per cent of the people receiving treatment using the FDG tracers are people with cancer. This will make a big difference in their treatment," said Dr. Sandor Demeter, Medical Director, Diagnostic Imaging. "While we currently are producing the isotopes for our own use, we could look at providing other medical centres with a PET scanner within a two-hour flight range, such as Thunder Bay."

Now that HSC has a cyclotron on site, they can produce a larger variety of PET tracers which can be used in circumstances where FDG sugar may not be the preferred tracer.

Construction on the cyclotron facility began in 2006, with the cyclotron itself installed in 2008. After receiving Health Canada approval for its use, the first patient received treatment with locally-produced isotopes on Aug. 10, 2010.

How does a cyclotron work?

The cyclotron at Health Sciences Centre is a particle accelerator that features a vacuum chamber held between two strong magnets. The vacuum chamber is heavily shielded, with operations conducted from a separate room. There also is a "clean lab" where the original isotopes produced by the cyclotron are converted into the trace sugars used with the PET / CT scanners.

In the cyclotron, a high-frequency alternating voltage applied across the "D" electrodes alternately attracts and repels charged particles. The particles, injected near the center of the magnetic field, accelerate only when passing through the gap between the electrodes. The perpendicular magnetic field, combined with the increasing energy of the particles, forces the particles to travel in a spiral path.

The spiral beam of particles will widen and hit a target on one side of the vacuum chamber. The cyclotron at HSC contains eight such targets in a carousel. Cyclotron beams are used to bombard other atoms to produce short-lived positron-emitting isotopes suitable for use with the PET scanner.

The PET scanner is a nuclear medicine imaging technique which produces three-dimensional images of processes inside the body. The system detects pairs of gamma rays which are emitted indirectly by a positron-emitting tracer, which is injected into the body.

The concentrations of tracer sugars shown in the PET scan provide a look at metabolic activity in the tissues. As cancer cells generally require more energy than normal tissue, they take in the FDG sugar tracers as a form of energy, and that difference is shown by the scans.

Most patients undergo their PET scan at the same time as a CT scan. Computer tomography (CT) generates a three-dimensional image of the inside of the body from a large series of two-dimensional X-rays taken around a single axis of rotation.

The PET scan provides metabolic information about the patient, and the CT scan provides anatomical information. Areas of abnormality in the PET scan can be pinpointed to the anatomy shown in the CT scan.

What is the Kleysen Institute?

The Kleysen Institute for Advanced Medicine at Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg (HSC) is a highly specialized 80,000 square foot facility; its goal is to promote the convergence of clinical treatment and research, furthering global efforts in the pursuit of improved health care techniques and treatments.

Once fully operational, the Kleysen Institute will employ 300 scientific, technical and support staff. It will have gross revenues of $30 million in external research funding each year - largely from out-of-province sources.

While the Kleysen Institute will broadly support all medical disciplines at HSC, activity will focus on enhancing expertise in the brain, leading-edge surgical techniques, advanced medical imaging and clinical simulation.

The Kleysen Institute for Advanced Medicine will incorporate an innovative program in surgical research, including an intra-operative MRI scanner, and highly specialized operating theatres for neurosurgical and neurovascular procedures.

The facility will also have a biomedical engineering infrastructure that supports customized device development. Construction of this area is currently underway on the second floor of the Kleysen Institute.

The Kleysen Institute was named in September, 2009 in honour of Hubert Kleysen and his family for their generous and passionate support of HSC Foundation and its Breakthrough! Campaign.

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