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Cancer patients around the world to benefit from new technology launching in B.C.

The made-in-Canada production method for the world’s most commonly used medical isotope will usher in a new era for BC Cancer patients.
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​A new production method for the world’s most commonly used medical isotope is now approved for clinical use in B.C., ensuring a stable supply chain and securing access to life-saving medical scans for cancer patients in B.C. and around the world. 

The medical isotope, called technetium-99m (Tc-99m), is used in 80 per cent of all medical scans in Canada and in tens of millions of imaging tests to detect bone and cardiac diseases, cancer diagnostic scans and other life-saving procedures around the world each year. 

Global disruptions in supply have led to international shortages in recent years causing temporary delays for Canadians in need of these essential scans. 

“This new technology will provide Canadians with consistent access to the resources they need for life-saving medical scans, including cancer diagnostic scans,” said Dr. François Bénard, senior executive director of research at BC Cancer and professor of radiology and associate dean of research at UBC’s faculty of medicine.

Scientists at BC Cancer, TRIUMF, and the University of British Columbia, along with other Canadian colleagues are the first in the world to receive Health Canada regulatory approval for this approach and will begin to produce the isotopes domestically – starting with British Columbia. 

“Medical isotopes help so many people every day, so it’s critical to have a secure supply chain to avoid unexpected disruptions to their availability,” said Dr. Paul Schaffer, associate professor at UBC’s faculty of medicine and associate laboratory director, life sciences at TRIUMF. “Being able to produce here in B.C. at TRIUMF is an important milestone that will ultimately deliver direct benefit for Canadian patients.” 

The isotopes are made at cyclotron facilities, which are particle accelerators that produce isotopes like Tc-99m in a more sustainable, environmentally-friendly way at a lower cost than relying on nuclear fission technology. BC Cancer has operated a cyclotron facility for over a decade and TRIUMF maintains a number of cyclotrons used for research and medical isotope production. 

Andrew Robertson, TRIUMF Research Officer (Therapeutic Isotope Product Development), working in a TRIUMF radiochemistry laboratory. Credit: TRIUMF

Next year, a new medical cyclotron will come on-line in the Institute for Advanced Medical Isotopes (IAMI) in B.C. and will be dedicated for medical isotope production. IAMI is supported in part by a significant donation from the BC Cancer Foundation

This project was also made possible through collaboration with Canadian research partners and through grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), and Natural Resources Canada

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