In association with ACSI, Vancouver and ERC, Edmonton - Le Centre de recherche clinique Étienne - Le Bel at the CHUS is proud to be the Quebec partner ensuring the diversification and improvement of isotope production

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SHERBROOKE, QC, Jan. 24 /CNW Telbec/ - The Minister of Natural Resources Canada, the Honourable Christian Paradis, announced today the partners in the Non-Reactor Based Isotope Supply Program (NISP) created by the Department to diversify and improve Canada's isotope supply chain, with funding totaling $35 million. The Centre de recherche clinique Étienne - Le Bel (CRCELB) of the Centre hospitalier universitaire de Sherbrooke (CHUS) will receive $5 million in funding out of the $11 million project headed up by Advanced Cyclotron System, Inc. (ACSI) in Vancouver, in association with the Edmonton Radiopharmacy Centre (ERC) for the project entitled Commercializing Cyclotron Production of 99mTc in Canada.

This announcement was enthusiastically received by the Chair of the CHUS Board of Directors, Jacques Fortier, since it represents recognition of the institution's expertise and the leadership role played by the researchers at the CHUS and the Université de Sherbrooke. Moreover, it will enable the hospital and its clinical research centre to maintain a competitive edge in research both nationally and internationally. "With our Vancouver and Edmonton partners, we will push forward the technological development of cyclotrons for producing the technetium-99m (99mTc) radioisotope. The CRCELB could be in a position to secure the 99mTc supply for a large part of the province of Quebec," stated Mr. Fortier.

This Natural Resources Canada program lays the foundation for a more reliable and sustainable supply of 99mTc over the medium and long terms, paving the way to reducing dependence on reactor-produced isotopes.

A sustainable and ecological solution to the crisis
The May 2009 closure of the Chalk River nuclear reactor in Ontario caused a technetium shortage that caused grave concern among many nuclear-medicine specialists, primarily in North America, because the situation delayed many diagnostic procedures that were deemed urgent. During this crisis, CHUS demonstrated that 99mTc produced with their low-energy cyclotron, TR-19, provided results in all aspects equivalent to 99mTc derived from a nuclear reactor. In the words of Dr. Roger Lecomte, "The cyclotron is a modern, proven, and safe technology that requires no highly enriched uranium and produces no nuclear waste." Dr Roger Lecomte, Scientific Head of CRCELB's and of the Université de Sherbrooke's Molecular Imaging team and professor in the, went on to say that cyclotrons represent "a sustainable more ecological solution."

The $5 million in funding from Natural Resources Canada will go to developing 99mTc production
"Furthermore," stated Dr. Lecomte, "completion of the research and development leading to large-scale production of technetium required a larger vault to accommodate additional irradiation stations. We also had to increase the capacity of ACSI's TR-24 cyclotron, which, initially, was only intended to produce isotopes for positron emission tomography (PET). In addition, laboratories adjacent to the vault had to be built and equipped to extract and prepare the technetium produced by the new cyclotron."

The vault housing the new cyclotron is part of the CHUS' CRCELB's expansion project announced in June 2010 with 71% of the funding provided by Quebec's Ministry of Economic Development, Innovation, and Export Trade and the remainder by the CHUS and its Foundation using funds raised during the Ensemble campaign conducted in collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke and the CSSS-IUGS, including a special contribution by the Ville de Sherbrooke. The $5 million Natural Resources Canada funding will provide for upgrading of the planned facilities through the addition of workspaces for researchers, which will enable them to step up their work related specifically to cyclotron-produced technetium-99m. Facility expansion will cost an estimated $1.5 million, while $2.9 million of the Natural Resources Canada funding will be used to upgrade the TR-24 cyclotron and purchase equipment. The remaining $600 000 will go to support research.

Upcoming steps
Vault construction will get under way in spring 2011 and be completed during the summer. Research and development studies for large-scale production are slated to start in early fall, once the new TR-24 cyclotron—whose delivery is planned for June—is installed and put into operation.

The CHUS' older TR-19 cyclotron will be kept in operation as a backup system to support research and ensure isotope production for positron emission tomography (PET) when the main cyclotron is undergoing maintenance or repair.

Uses for technetium
Technetium-99m (99mTc), which has a half-life of six hours, is the most frequently used radioisotope in nuclear medicine. It is currently produced with nuclear reactors from its parent isotope, molybdenum-99 (99Mo), which has a half-life of 67 hours. 99mTc is used in medical imaging in diagnosing heart, thyroid, brain, lung, liver, kidney, spleen, and bone-marrow diseases and for cancer screening.

"Technetium-based nuclear imaging is better than all other methods for certain diagnostic tests, while exposing the patient to minimal amounts of radiation. The problem is that 99mTc is currently produced by a handful of aging nuclear reactors across the world," explained Dr. Éric E. Turcotte, MD, nuclear-medicine physician at the CHUS and Clinical Head of Molecular Imagery at the CHUS' CRCELB and the Université de Sherbrooke's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. He further explained that "The supply chain is fragile. When 99mTc production is interrupted, whether due to occasional breakdowns or planned maintenance, the result is a worldwide shortage of medical isotopes."

CRCELB: a bold pioneer
The Centre de recherche clinique Étienne - Le Bel at the CHUS includes several researchers ultra-specialized in molecular imagery. Dr. Lecomte is its Scientific Head and Dr. Turcotte its Clinical Head. The molecular imaging research teams have access to a medical-imaging platform at the cutting edge of technology. The TR-19 cyclotron, installed in 1998, produces medical isotopes for PET imaging on a daily basis. Since 1998, the teams have been working on an ambitious research-and-development program dealing with every aspect of PET imaging, from radioisotope production and scanner design to the use of new radiopharmaceuticals for clinical diagnosis in humans including their radiochemical synthesis and validation in animal models.

This group has been supplying several hospitals in Quebec and eastern Canada with radiotracers for PET imaging since 2003. Anticipating a growing demand, the CHUS' Centre de recherche clinique Étienne - Le Bel in partnership with the Université de Sherbrooke, had already planned the acquisition of a second cyclotron in 2005 to secure the supply of medical isotopes. In 2008, Health Canada granted the CHUS an Establishment License for the production of radiopharmaceuticals for medical purposes.

During the first shortage of medical isotopes in 2007 and again more intensely during the 2009 crisis, the CRCELB research centre's renowned molecular imaging researchers developed an alternative solution to 99mTc by using sodium fluoride (Na18F), radiopharmaceutical used in PET imaging in bone scans, which allowed many hospitals to limit the number of tests they had to cancel or reschedule. The CRCELB was able to provide this alternative radiotracer to the Centre hospitalier régional de Trois-Rivières, the CHUQ, the Centre hospitalier régional de Gatineau and the CHUM. Based on this momentum, the CHUS is committed to playing a similar role with the production of technetium-99m.

"Continually growing, the Centre de recherche clinique Étienne-Le Bel is the CHUS' leading force in research, a major asset to Quebec, and an internationally renowned institution," said CHUS Executive Director, Patricia Gauthier.

"Under the leadership of Dr. Etienne Le Bel, a pioneer in medical research at the CHUS, medical specialist, and a trailblazer in nuclear medicine in Canada, the Centre de recherche clinique Étienne-Le Bel at the CHUS has flourished. Over the years, molecular imagery has become one of the most active sectors and these researchers have become recognized worldwide, Working along with Dr. Roger Lecomte and Dr. Éric E. Turcotte are Dr. Johan van Lier and Dr. Brigitte Guérin," noted the Scientific Director of the Centre de recherche clinique Étienne-Le Bel at the CHUS, Dr. Serge Marchand, PhD.


Additional information
Le Centre de recherche clinique Étienne - Le Bel at the CHUS :::
At the forefront of the current major health concerns, the Centre de recherche clinique Étienne-Le Bel of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Sherbrooke (CHUS) is making a mark for itself through its integrated approach, combining basic, clinical, epidemiological and evaluative research. Its 185 researchers share knowledge and expertise and a common purpose: to develop new knowledge to maintain health, prevent disease and improve patient care. Over 900 people contribute to the advancement of health sciences at the CRC Etienne - Le Bel at the CHUS.

Centre hospitalier universitaire de Sherbrooke (CHUS) :::
The Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Sherbrooke is composed of two institutions: the CHUS - Fleurimont Hospital and the CHUS - Hôtel-Dieu. Its mission has four components: patient care, teaching, research and technology assessment and intervention methods in health. The fourth largest hospital centre in Quebec, the CHUS plays a triple role of local hospital, regional and super-regional hospital. The CHUS has garnered a reputation in several cutting edge specialties such as gamma knife radiosurgery, positron emission tomography (PET), interventional angiography and neuro-oncology. Nearly 9000 people are part of the CHUS hospital community (staff, physicians, researchers, professors, students, interns and volunteers) and all have a common aim: to serve life.

SOURCE Centre hospitalier Universitaire de Sherbrooke

For further information:

Information and interview coordination
Jacinthe Ouellette
Directrice des communications et des affaires publiques du CHUS, du CRCELB et de la Fondation du CHUS
819-346-1110, ext. 22560 or 819-679-3113 (cell)

Maud Coussa-Jandl, Information Officer
Centre de recherche clinique Étienne - Le Bel du CHUS
819-346-1110, ext. 12871 or 819-570-1646 (cell)

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Centre hospitalier Universitaire de Sherbrooke

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