A new cyclotron located at the University of British Columbia promises to improve cancer care in B.C.
Cyclotrons are machines that produce materials, with which doctors detect and monitor cancers and other diseases, and Health Minister Adrian Dix Tuesday (Jan. 30) announced that construction of the machine is underway.
“Having access to medical imaging is critical to (making) a cancer diagnosis,” Dix said in Vancouver. “(This) new cyclotron and laboratory will increase capacity for PET/CT scanners. Increasing PET/CET enables our physicians to accurately diagnose cancers, determine appropriate treatment options, treatment planning and identify appropriate targeted therapies, ensuring all people in B.C. have access to the care they need.”
Four publicly funded PET/CT scanners currently operate in the province — two in Vancouver, as well as one in Victoria and one in Kelowna, with “more coming,” Dix said.
He said about 16,000 PET/CT scans happen annually in B.C. With the new cyclotron, B.C. will have the raw material to do up to 41,000 scans, a “massive, significant” increase, Dix added.
The cyclotron — whose commission is scheduled for 2026, following construction completion in 2025 —is part and parcel of investments totaling $50.5 million, with the provincial government’s share being $32 million.
Most of that money — $21 million — is going toward the new cyclotron and radio-pharmacy laboratory with the rest going to TRIUMF, Canada’s particle accelerator centre, for research. BC Cancer Foundation is ponying up another $3.5 million to support capital investment and $15 million for critical cancer research.
Dix said the laboratory will also advance research between BC Cancer and TRIUMF at the Institute for Advanced Medical Isotopes.
“This shared facility will help BC Cancer not only rapidly increase the ability to generate radioactive isotopes, but will also help researchers project future demand for them,” he said.
Cyclotrones use a combination of electrical and magnetic fields to accelerate sub-atomic particles to very high energy. Researchers then use the resulting particles in particle physics, nuclear physics and the production of medical isotopes.
Dr. Kim Nguyen Chi, BC Cancer’s executive vice-president and chief medical officer, said these isotopes are key for cancer diagnostics and advanced imaging.
“For patients, this means more precision care and better outcomes,” Chi said.
When asked whether the province has the necessary doctors to treat cancer when detected, Dix said “the short answer is yes.”
It takes many years to train doctors, nurses and other health professionals and previous governments have failed to do that in the past, he said.
That has changed under his government’s health human resources strategy, Dix added. “I think B.C. is one of the most attractive places in the world to practice health care.”
But Dix also acknowledged that more needs to be done in the face of rising demands from an growing and aging population.
”So absolutely, we need to dramatically increase and support medical professionals and health care workers and that’s precisely what we are doing with this announcement today,” he said.