Smashing atoms to fight disease

Cyclotrons are an important tool to help tackle big diseases, such as cancer and neurological disorders like dementia and seizures

It might sound like a device from science fiction, but a cyclotron is an essential tool for clinicians to look at how certain diseases progress and develop in the body. A cyclotron is a particle accelerator that tries to recreate the conditions of the big bang by smashing particles together at near-light-speed. But rather than demystifying the universe, this device is used to help combat some of the toughest diseases of our time, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. Here are three ways cyclotrons are working to help fight disease throughout the world.  

1. 20 tons of futuristic tech: This machine heats hydrogen as hot as the sun and accelerates ions at the speed of light

Cyclotrons: proof that the future is already here. Cyclotrons are giant electromagnets made from tightly wound copper coils and lots of power – some 65 kilowatts – to heat up hydrogen to 5,000 degrees Celsius – almost as hot as the surface of the sun. They need this energy to convert the hydrogen into negatively charged hydrogen ions and accelerate them towards the speed of light to transform into a radioactive isotope called fluorine-18. Since the isotopes are mildly radioactive, cyclotrons must be housed in special structures and behind 2-meter-thick walls. Understanding the power and potential of this technology, the Korea Institute of Radiological & Medical Sciences (KIRAMS) – a pioneer in radiotherapeutic research – installed GE Healthcare’s PETtrace 880, a cyclotron with a complete radiopharmacy suite. This marks GE Healthcare’s 400th cyclotron installation in the world. [Read more…]  

2. Iceland’s Cancer Patients No Longer Have to Travel 1,808-Kilometers to Receive a PET/CT Scan

The 3.5 hours it takes to travel from Iceland’s Reyjavik Airport to Denmark’s Rigshospitalet can feel like an eternity for those who are making the trip to learn whether they have cancer or if their treatment is working. “Until recently, Iceland lacked the tracers and technology necessary for PET/CT scans. We annually had to refer up to 250 patients to Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen,” said Petur Hannesson, Head of Radiology at Landspítali Hospital. “As a result, it took extra time to diagnose patients, identify the best course of treatment, and determine whether that treatment was working.” Recognizing the need for a solution, the hospital decided to bring three new pieces of medical technology to the island: a PET/CT scanner, a cyclotron, and a state-of-the-art PET radiochemistry facility. Today, patients requiring a PET/CT scan can be treated closer to home. [Read more…]  

3. Small vials, big challenges: why every minute counts in the little-known world of radiopharmaceuticals

In some parts of the world, we have grown accustomed to ordering items of almost any sort online and receiving the delivery by our door in less than 24 hours: groceries, shoes or your favorite pictures. But could delivery services get even more personalized than that? A factory in Eindhoven, Netherlands manufactures are using cyclotrons to create little vials containing radiopharmaceuticals that tackle big diseases: some of them are used to diagnose Parkinson’s, others to diagnose cancer or heart diseases. Every vial is tailored to the unique needs of each patient. Every day, the factory ships approximately 1,000 vials and capsules of radiopharmaceuticals to hospitals in Europe, Israel, South Africa and other parts of the world. “Behind every vial of radiopharmaceutical there’s someone waiting… with a question. Do I have Parkinson’s? Am I cancer free?”, explains Sophie Lemort, GE Healthcare’s site operations leader in Eindhoven. [Read more…]