Cancer-detecting cyclotron announced for Calgary

CALGARY — The government of Alberta has announced a cyclotron and new radiopharmaceutical facility will be coming to Calgary to improve access to diagnostic tests and treatment for cancer, cardiac and neurological conditions.

“It is vital that we have access to robust tools which can help diagnose these medical problems or find tumours as quickly as possible and then to guide the targeted treatment,” said Tyler Shandro, Alberta’s health minister. 

A cyclotron is a machine that produces radioisotopes (radioactive atoms) for use in medical imaging, therapy and research and is crucial to cancer care and treatment.

Doctors say this is a much needed resource for Calgary and southern Alberta. 

“This is a huge impact on how we treat cancer,” said Dr. Steven Yip, medical oncologist and clinical assistant professor, University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine. 

“This is going to bring us to a new level of cancer excellence where we can not only enhance the care of patients who are treated now but also the care in the future.”

Calgary currently relies on supplies from Edmonton but the drugs have short half-lives and degrade along the journey. Only 25 per cent of what arrives can be used. 

The province says having cyclotrons producing medical products in both Calgary and Edmonton will ensure a consistent supply, especially during regular maintenance shutdowns each year. 

Alberta Health said radiopharmaceuticals are used to diagnose some medical conditions and treat certain diseases. The radioactive agents are given to patients orally, by injection or inhalation and collect in certain types of organs or cells, helping doctors pinpoint the disease and target treatment. 

Dr. Ingrid Koslowsky, Calgary Radiopharmaceutical Centre director, welcomed the news of a cyclotron in Calgary currently, saying patients will reap the rewards.

“If we produce FDG (a radiopharmaceutical) on site, we can easily double the number of patients that we can inject with FDG every single day so that will really help reduce wait times for patients.”

The province said the Calgary facility will also help spark research to develop new radiopharmaceuticals that could potentially help better understand the progression of other diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinsons. 

The province says it’s committing $18.6 million over three years as part of budget 2021 to begin building the cyclotron.

The entire Calgary project is expected to cost $50 million. The exact location of the new cyclotron and radiopharmaceutical facility at the Foothills Medical Centre site is still being finalized but itis expected to be completed in 2024 or 2025.

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