Tag Archives: nuclear technology

Uncategorized

Nuclear Technology Brings Hope to Patients

MEDICALISOTOPESSaskatchewan cancer patients have been given a new reason to be hopeful thanks to nuclear technology.

The Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon is now receiving on-site medical isotopes thanks to the Fedoruk Centre, a cyclotron and a funding partnership between the province and the feds.

A cyclotron is a particle accelerator and it uses power to make particles radioactive. When these particles collide isotopes are created.

Medical isotopes are safe radioactive particles used to diagnose health conditions.

In total, the nuclear medicine community relies on a wide suite of medical isotopes. There are approximately 200 isotopes available for use. Each isotope has its own characteristics and the ability to provide doctors with a window into what is happening inside the body.

The isotope used to help detect medical issues such as cancer and Parkinson’s through a positron emission tomography (PET)/computerized tomography (CT) scan (PET-CT).

An isotope known as fluorine-18 is attached to a tracer to make a radiopharmaceutical. It is then injected into the patient where it moves throughout the body depending on the tracer.  In Canada, PET/CT scans use the radiopharmaceutical flurodeoxyglucose (FDG).  Approximately 60 minutes after injection, the scanning part of the procedure begins.

“FDG is a sugar and the sugar is burned up by different parts of the body at different rates,” according to Dr. Neil Alexander, executive director of the Fedoruk Centre. “In nuclear medicine, particularly in diagnostics, if you have a sugar it goes around the body and anything burning up the sugar at a great rate lights up on the scan.  As one example, cancer cells burn up sugar at a greater rate than healthy cells, allowing physicians to detect cancers and see how the disease responds to treatment.”

PET/CT scans provide doctors with vital information on the location and extent of cancer within the body. The test also allows doctors to assess the success of treatments; providing patients with a better chance at survival.

Parkinson’s disease diagnosis and research is one of the newest areas for medical isotopes and PET/CT. Early diagnosis in the case of Parkinson’s is an important step to increasing knowledge on how the disease progresses and responds to therapy.  In the case of Parkinson’s patients the scan is looking for a decrease in proteins used in the synapses, or the junctions between nerve cells, in the brain.

Until the cyclotron started producing isotopes, patients requiring a scan in Saskatchewan needed isotopes flown in from Ontario and because the radioactivity is short-lived, meaning FDG cannot be stored, daily shipments were required. The challenges of early morning production added to air transportation often led to delayed starts and cancellations, providing unreliability for patients in need of medical diagnoses.

“Up until now, all of it was coming in from Hamilton and a lot of the material had decayed so they couldn’t process as many patients,” says Alexander.

Producing locally means more reliable health care for patients, cutting wait times and diagnosing more patients sooner. It also means that Saskatchewan medical researchers have a supply readily available to expand their research programs.

Uncategorized

Nuclear Fun Fact: Pest Control

Pest control

CNA2016

Neutron Beams & Airplane Safety

According to Statistics Canada, there were 5.4 million take-offs and landings at Canada’s ninety-two airports in 2014.airplaneimage

Everything is made of materials, even people. And those materials can be examined through non-destructive testing (NDT). It is exactly what it sounds like, a method to test materials without breaking or destroying them.

“In the past, they’d make the part bigger. That works and it works if it’s on the ground, but with an airplane, when you have to move through the air you are sensitive to weight,” according to Michael Gharghouri, a research scientist at CNL with a PhD in materials engineering. “So you really want to design just what you need. You can only do it if you understand the material very well.”

When it comes to flying, NDT is an effective method that can pick up potential problems long before a plane takes off.

That’s where Nray Services comes in. This small company has a big job. For the last twenty years, its shop in Dundas, Ontario has been testing engine turbine blades for 95% of the entire aerospace industry using a neutron beam.

There are four phases to jet propulsion according to Rankin MacGillivray, President of Nray: Suck, squeeze, bang and blow.

Intake is the suck that draws air into the jet engine.

Then the air is squeezed by compression within the aircraft’s engine.

The bang occurs when the fuel and the spark are added.

The blow pushes air out of the engine at the rear, and pushes the aircraft forward.

It is these small rings of blades, approximately four or five inches high, inside the engine that Nray tests.

“The blades are operating at temperatures higher than their melting points,” according to MacGillivray.

To compensate for the high temperatures, the blades have hollow passages that allow cool air to circulate inside them. Within this ceramic core, any blockage greater than a ¼ millimeter could prevent cooling and cause the blade to break up in flight. So accuracy matters very much.

“Ceramic is a light material compared to the blade material. It’s fairly heavy and if you look at an x-ray for example it can penetrate but it can’t see behind it”, says MacGillivray. “Neutron rays can see light materials behind heavy materials.”

Neutron beams don’t just provide highly accurate measurements. They also provide an early warning system.

“Very early on when they are designing so they can get information up front to do an informed design.” Gharghouri goes onto say,”Then at the other end when problems crop up that are unexpected so that they can tell them the problem and where it is without actually destroying the part.”

CNA2016

Nuclear Science: Unlocking Answers To Malnutrition

A healthy diet begins with having enough food to eat, but we need more than that. A healthy diet provides a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals which are critical to growth, development and disease resistance.

A deficiency in minerals and vitamins is called hidden hunger.  One might feel full but one’s growth and development can be stunted in the absence of necessary nutrients.

According to a 2014 report by the World Health Organization (WHO), hidden hunger and undernutrition affects nearly two billion people. That’s almost 1/3 of the global population.

In 2013, 6.5 million children died before five years of age. And 45% of these deaths are linked to maternal and child malnutrition.

MarchIAEAFINAL-v2

Relative risk of mortality associated with estimated low weight-for-age (Figure adapted from Caulfield et al. 2004, Am J Clin Nutr.)

Increased child mortality is not the only impact of undernutrition. A lack of food variety coupled with unhealthy environments and limited access to health care can increase the risk of disease, and hold back mental and physical development.

“165 million children are stunted or not as tall as they should be for their age. In some cases, they are stunted not because they are hungry but because the quality of their diets is poor or because they are frequently sick.” Christine Slater, nutrition specialist at the IAEA.

childeating

Chronic infections and repeated illnesses in children, like respiratory infections, can be an indicator of a deficiency in essential nutrients.

Nuclear technology is one tool in the fight against malnutrition. A technique called deuterium dilution helps to determine body composition, or the percentage of fat versus fat-free mass.

Deuterium is a stable form of hydrogen that includes a neutron. It bonds with oxygen to make water that acts just like regular water, but weighs more because of the neutron.

Taken into the body through drinking, concentrated deuterium passes into the body’s water, and after a few hours is evenly distributed throughout the body water. Body water is sampled as saliva, urine or blood. From the amount of deuterium consumed, and the concentration in body water, we can calculate the amount of fat-free mass. If this is subtracted from body weight, we have an estimate of the amount of fat in the body.

Scientists think this measurement technique gives more reliable results—especially for children—than measuring skinfold thickness or body-mass index. It can be used to evaluate programs that provide children with nutrients to promote healthy growth while limiting the risk of obesity later in life.

Deuterium dilution techniques have been used for many years in high-income countries, according to Slater, and with the help if the IAEA Technical Cooperation Program, these benefits can be found in low- and middle-income countries as well.

There are many other applications. For example, cancer treatments often leave patients malnourished. This procedure could help provide doctors with better information on their patients’ nutritional status.

As Slater points out, malnutrition is a complex problem requiring a multi-pronged solution that includes a better diet and cleaner environment. An effective diagnosis helps makes the solution possible.

“Malnutrition is not just to do with food and quality of diet but environmental influences,” says Slater. “Children who live in dirty environments and don’t have access to good sanitation can get sick and we find in a lot of cases that their guts are damaged.  So even if they get good quality food they can’t absorb the nutrients.”

CNA2016

Nuclear at Sea: Floating Reactors

As the world demand for energy heats up, some in the nuclear industry are looking to the world’s oceans to provide sites for the next generation of power plants.

In January, China General Nuclear (CGN) announced an agreement with the Chinese shipbuilding industry to develop a floating nuclear power plant designed to supply electricity, heat and desalination of water and could be used on islands or in coastal areas, or for offshore oil and gas exploration. The plant is expected to begin power generation by 2020.

Russia, meanwhile, expects its floating nuclear plant to start powering the Arctic this year.

Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are working on power plants that can be assembled in a shipyard and then docked at sea.

Professor Jacopo Buongiorno, the associate head of nuclear science and engineering at MIT and the director, Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems (CANES), has been spearheading the project for two years.

“The idea is to integrate a nuclear reactor into a floating platform like the type used for oil and gas operations,” according to Buongiorno.

A whole plant, including the turbine and generator, would be built in a shipyard and then anchored a few miles offshore.

For the MIT team, floating reactors are the latest advancement in the field of nuclear technology.

“Economically, you can simplify the design and build it all in one place so you can build it faster,” says Buongiorno. They are more compact, so the amount of materials required for the construction would be less also keeping costs down.

With reactors out at sea, the threat of damage from weather events would be minimized. Waves from destructive storms are smaller out at sea than at the coastline. Also, having a nuclear power plant out at sea would mean a continuous supply of coolant.

“The reactor is under the water line so it becomes easy to use the ocean as a heat sink,” according to Dr. Buongiorno. “The heat exchanger discharges the heat into the ocean so you can’t run out of cooling.”

The group at MIT has a crowdsourcing page to help with the development of their power plant.

While the first floating power plant for this group of MIT researchers is still in the developing stages, Dr. Buongiorno and his team believe they can develop a new wave of floating nuclear plants that would be safe and cost effective in a variety of new applications.

CNA2016

The Nuclear Connection to Combating the Zika Virus

A team of experts at the IAEA is launching a new fight against Zika and it’s totally nuclear.

It’s an astonishing fact. One million people have already been affected by the Zika virus, a number that could quadruple by the end of this year.

zikavirus

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a global emergency on the virus and recent reports indicated that it has spread its way into North America. Reports of over 100 cases have already surfaced in the United States.

The Zika virus is not new. It was first discovered in Uganda back in the 1940s and is named after the forest in which it was found. The virus is spread through a mosquito known as Aedes aegypti.

Symptoms can include mild fevers, skin rashes, joint pain and headaches. But far worse, the virus has been linked to brain damage in babies and, according to French researchers, can also lead to brain infections in adults.

The procedure is called the sterile insect technique (SIT) and it’s been around for over 50 years. Very effective in addressing insect pests, the technique requires using a small dose of radiation to make insects infertile. It has been proven successful in other pest insects, suppressing or eradicating them all together. However, this will be first time that the SIT technique will be applied to fight human disease.

“Think of it as a method of birth control. We produce sterile male mosquitos using radiation that sterilizes the sperm in the male mosquito,” says Rosemary Lees, a medical entomologist with the IAEA. “When we release a large number of these males we flood a region with sterile males so that the wild females are more likely to mate with them.”

Since female mosquitos usually only mate once, mating with infertile males would stop the further reproduction of Aedes mosquitos.

The SIT technique relies on something known as Cobalt-60, a radioactive isotope that is currently used to sterilize 40 per cent of the world’s medical devices. In Canada Cobalt-60 is harvested from Bruce Power and processed by Nordion.

“Cobalt-60 from our reactors already plays a major role in keeping single-use medical equipment safely sterilized, and with it now helping to stop the spread of diseases like Zika virus the world’s population continues to benefit from it,” said James Scongack, Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Bruce Power. “We look forward to working with Nordion to continue safely harvesting Cobalt-60 during our planned maintenance outages so it can help prevent disease across the world.”

The second half of the program involves understanding the wild mosquito environment through trapping mosquitos. The idea is that if researchers know how many wild mosquitoes there are, they will know how many to release. The hope is that if enough wild mosquitos are trapped and sterile ones breed, that the spread of the virus will cease.

“We are trying to remove the vector. Think of Zika transmission as a triangle. People, virus and the mosquito. By removing one of the three you can stop the transmission,” according to Jeremie Gilles, head of the mosquito group with the IAEA.

The WHO has declared the Zika virus a public health emergency and has advised all pregnant women to avoid affected areas. This is only the fourth time in history that this has happened since International Heath Regulations (IHR) came into place in 2007.

The work being done at the IAEA through the use of nuclear technology may be able to stop the spread of what could soon be a global pandemic in its tracks.