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State-of-the-art technology enhances cancer diagnostics, research, care

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Pictured left to right: Dr. François Bénard, senior executive director of research, BC Cancer; Nigel Smith, executive director and CEO, TRIUMF; Minister of Health Adrian Dix; Sarah Roth, president and chief executive officer, BC Cancer Foundation; Dr. Kim Chi, executive vice president and chief medical officer, BC Cancer; Dr. Don Wilson, Provincial Medical Lead, Molecular Imaging and Therapy.

Cancer patients and their families will benefit from more access to life-saving cancer diagnostics as new equipment and research expand access to PET/CT scans and innovative cancer treatments throughout the province.

Construction is underway in Vancouver for a new state-of-the-art cyclotron and radiopharmacy laboratory, which will increase the production of clinical radiotracers, the radioactive isotopes used in medical imaging to detect and monitor cancers. Increasing access to this technology supports cancer research, improves cancer diagnostics and provides more treatment options to cancer patients.

“Ensuring people in B.C. have access to PET/CT scans and world-class cancer care is a critical part of our Province’s 10-year cancer-care action plan, and we are committed to investing in these life-saving technologies and research,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “By expanding clinical and research radioisotope production, this new facility will improve access to critical diagnostic tests for patients in the coming years, while furthering the groundbreaking research that will transform care and scientific knowledge for generations to come.”

In addition, TRIUMF will receive funding from the Province to expand its laboratory capacity to support cancer research as the next generation of treatments for cancer and other diseases are developed.

“Our strong partnerships along with the passion and drive for research excellence are a solid foundation on which we continue to grow our infrastructure,” said David Byres, president and chief executive officer, Provincial Health Services Authority. “The cyclotron and radiopharmacy laboratories will increase our capacity to deliver on the priorities laid out in B.C.’s 10-year cancer action plan, strengthen cancer-care services and accelerate diagnostics and treatments for people in B.C.” 

Researchers and staff with TRIUMF and BC Cancer will use the Institute for Advanced Medical Isotopes’ new cyclotron and radiopharmacy laboratories, along with the facilities’ existing cyclotron and laboratories, to produce clinical radiotracers and advance B.C. as a leader in the fast-growing field of nuclear medicine. A growing area of research and innovation is to use radioisotopes for targeted radiopharmaceutical therapies as they can be harnessed to deliver radiation treatment directly to cancer cells with minimal impact on nearby healthy tissues.

The Province is investing $32 million to support this work through $21 million to BC Cancer for the new cyclotron and radiopharmacy laboratory and approximately $11 million to TRIUMF to advance research. In addition, the BC Cancer Foundation has provided $3.5 million to support capital investments and $15 million in funding for critical cancer research, for a total of $50.5 million.

“These investments in the Institute for Advanced Medical Isotopes, which leverage TRIUMF’s world-class research community and over five decades of established expertise in cyclotron operations and isotope research, will have a profound impact in improving care for B.C. patients and positioning our province as the driving force in Canada’s nuclear medicine research ecosystem,” said Nigel Smith, executive director and CEO, TRIUMF.

Construction of this facility is expected to be complete in 2025 with equipment installation, commissioning and Health Canada licensing to be completed in 2026.

“This project demonstrates the power of philanthropy to advance both our ability to better diagnose patients and to provide precision treatments that improve outcomes, and we are so grateful to our donor community for supporting such an important technology,” said Sarah Roth, president and chief executive officer, BC Cancer Foundation.


Dr. Kim Nguyen Chi, executive vice-president and chief medical officer, BC Cancer –

“Radioisotopes are key for cancer diagnostics and advanced imaging. They are critically important to helping physicians accurately diagnose and stage cancers and develop a personalized treatment plan, including the use of targeted therapies. This new facility will expand capacity and access to PET/CT across our province. For patients, this means more precision care and better outcomes.”

Dr. François Bénard, senior executive director of research, BC Cancer –

“This project has been a shared vision of many collaborators who worked for years to make this announcement possible. Once operational, the technology that we can produce in this facility and in partnership with TRIUMF will provide more people with consistent access to the resources they need for life-saving medical scans and further research pursuits that will benefit all Canadians.”

Paul Schaffer, director, Life Sciences Division, TRIUMF –

“With this infrastructure, we will increase the production of the medical isotopes used in routine diagnostic scans and emerging therapeutics, while adding research-focused laboratory capacity to support our research community in addressing existing and novel health-care challenges. The impact of this support will continue to emerge in the years and decades to come, much like how the initial investments into TRIUMF over 50 years ago continue to drive innovation today.”

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Facts about state-of-the-art technology enhancing cancer diagnostics

The new state-of-the-art cyclotron and radiopharmacy laboratory in Vancouver will increase access to PET/CT scans, which will help physicians to more accurately diagnose and manage diseases, especially cancer.

PET/CT Scans

  • A PET/CT scan evaluates a body’s organs and tissues at a molecular level, can identify abnormalities in cells, and can show whether a tumour has grown, shrunk or returned.
  • PET/CT imaging enables physicians to accurately diagnose and stage cancers, determine appropriate treatment options and measure treatment efficacy.
  • There are four publicly funded PET/CT scanners in B.C.:
    • Two are located at BC Cancer – Vancouver
    • One is located at BC Cancer – Victoria
    • One is located at BC Cancer – Kelowna

  • Cyclotrons are particle accelerators that can be used to make isotopes for medical imaging and research purposes.
  • Cyclotron facilities offer a green and sustainable approach for producing critical medical isotopes.
  • BC Cancer has operated a cyclotron facility since 2010.
  • TRIUMF maintains a number of cyclotrons used for research.

Facts about TRIUMF and the Institute for Advanced Medical Isotopes

Founded in 1968 by the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria, TRIUMF is Canada’s particle accelerator centre. It is a world-class hub of research, education, and innovation and is a cornerstone of B.C.’s innovation ecosystem, driving impact locally, nationally and around the world.

TRIUMF is Canada’s national-level laboratory for accelerator science, which does world-leading research in particle and nuclear physics, life sciences, materials sciences, data science, engineering and design/fabrication, theoretical physics and more.

  • TRIUMF is home to more than 50 experimental facilities and collaboration teams, and performs its science on site, as well as via contributions to major “Big Science” experiments around the world, including the ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Europe and the Hyper-K detector in Japan.

  • TRIUMF’s work spans the entire continuum of research from fundamental science to commercialization, creating spin-off companies, licensing advanced technologies, and bringing impact from the lab bench out into the world.

  • TRIUMF is a major contributor to the development of highly qualified personnel in STEM and in Canada. The laboratory trains approximately 150 co-op students per year, and acts like a pipeline that empowers Canadian early-career researchers (co-op students, graduate students, doctoral and post-doctoral students) to extend the impact of their research into the wider global Big Science ecosystem.

Particle accelerators are unique machines that use a combination of electrical and magnetic fields to accelerate particles. TRIUMF is home to a suite of particle accelerators, which include cyclotrons (which accelerate particles along a circular path) and linear accelerators (which accelerate particles in a straight line).

  • TRIUMF operates the world’s largest conventional cyclotron, the 520 MeV cyclotron, which is 18 metres in diameter and weighs more than 4,400 tonnes.

  • TRIUMF’s community of researchers, engineers, and others use particle accelerators for a variety of purposes, such as:

    • to produce rare, short-lived exotic isotopes. By smashing the particle beam into a target, TRIUMF can produce isotopes that are useful for science, medicine, and business.

    • Nuclear physicists at TRIUMF use isotopes as tools that can help push the boundaries of our understanding about the universe. They are used to mimic and then study stellar environments, like exploding or colliding stars, which tell us about how matter is created in the universe.

    • Life science researchers use small quantities of short-lived isotopes, deployed in substances called radiopharmaceuticals, which can be safely injected into the body to help us diagnose and even treat different diseases.

    • Particle physicists and materials scientists at TRIUMF use isotopes to characterize and optimize materials, including development and testing for things like the next generation of green batteries or low-temperature superconductors.

  • Since building the world’s largest cyclotron in the early 1970s, TRIUMF has cultivated a hub of excellence around a core of expertise in accelerators and isotope research.

  • From supporting Nobel-winning research to delivering life-saving breakthroughs in health and technology, TRIUMF has become a major asset in B.C.’s high-tech landscape.

Located on the TRIUMF campus, the Institute for Advanced Medical Isotopes (IAMI) is a $50 million+ world-leading research and production facility that will enable the accelerated growth of B.C.’s life sciences sector. IAMI was announced in 2018, and received major contributions from the Government of Canada, the Province of British Columbia and contributions from TRIUMF, BC Cancer Foundation and the University of British Columbia.

  • IAMI will enable B.C.-based research into next-generation medical isotopes and radiopharmaceuticals.

  • IAMI will comprise a suite of laboratories and two new cyclotrons to produce isotopes. This includes isotopes that are already being used in critically needed diagnostic scans (i.e., for PET scans, bone density scans, heart disease scans, etc.) as well as the next generation of useful isotopes that require special labs to study and develop.

  • IAMI will provide provincial isotope security, fortifying the existing supply chain for isotopes that are used in a variety of diagnostic scans.

  • IAMI provides additional research and laboratory capacity to help us unlock next-generation cancer therapies, which utilize short-lived isotopes to kill cancer cells while leaving healthy tissue unaffected.

  • IAMI provides a unique environment in the Canadian life sciences ecosystem to advance technological innovation and skills training for the next generation of STEM leaders. Life sciences researchers (physicists, chemists, etc.) across the radiopharmacy landscape will have access to leading-edge laboratory space to pursue their research.

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