Tag Archives: Triumf

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Canada 150: Nuclear Science and Your Health

When it comes to health care and medicine, nuclear science had made numerous accomplishments that have improved the lives of millions of people around the world. As Canada celebrates 150 years, we wanted to look back at some of our achievements.

In the late 1800s Dr. Harriet Brooks, Canada’s first nuclear physicist, discovered radon while at McGill University and worked in the lab of Dr. Marie Curie. Her work laid the foundation for nuclear physics and paved a pathway forward for women like Sylvia Fedoruk.

In the mid-1950s, Fedoruk and a team of researchers under the guidance of Dr. Harold Johns, became one of the first groups in Canada (the other was a team from London, Ontario) to successfully treat a cancer patient with cobalt-60 radiation therapy. Today, it is estimated that over 70 million people around the world have benefited from this treatment and cobalt-60 machines are still in use today.

The benefits and applications of cobalt-60 extend far beyond cancer treatments. The ability of cobalt-60 to effectively kill off even the tiniest of potentially harmful microbes makes it the perfect sterilization tool for medical equipment like gloves, gowns, IV bags, syringes and catheters. Medical-grade cobalt or High Specific Activity (HSA) cobalt-60, like the kind used by Feodurk and others, has been a foundation for cancer treatment for over 60 years. A recent partnership between Nordion and Bruce Power will ensure that cobalt-60 continues to be readily available for years to come.

Pioneers in medical isotopes over half a century ago, Canada led the world in the supply of isotopes, contributing to the betterment of global health. Used for the diagnosis and treatment of various diseases and illnesses such as imaging of the brain, lungs, heart and kidney, isotopes have been a key component to the health-care system have helped millions of people every year. The importance of isotopes is increasing. According to a recent report, the global market for nuclear diagnostic medicine is expected to double by 2020. Globally, over 40 million nuclear medicine procedures are performed every year.

Today, in the halls at TRIUMF in Vancouver, scientists are working on the next wave of cancer treatments through the exploration of alpha therapies. Through a targeted approach, cancer cells are blasted from the inside out, minimizing damage to healthy tissues. These alpha-emitting isotopes are thought to be especially effective for dealing with late-state or metastasized cancers (cancer that has spread from one part of the body to another).

In order to develop the necessary tools to diagnose and treat patients, an understanding of how our body functions at the cellular level is key. The community of St. Catharines, Ontario is home to Brock University.  There groups of scientists are looking to unlock the answers to some of the world’s most pressing health challenges by figuring out how our body works by peering inside our cells. Using a neutron beam and a very high-resolution microscope, you can look inside the tissues of cells without doing any damage. Thad Harroun is an Associate Professor at Brock University. He came to Canada in 2003 to work at the Canadian Neutron Beam Centre and has worked on numerous experiments to better understand the interactions inside our bodies. One of his recent projects involves a better understanding of cholesterol.

“We want to know how proteins in our cells interact with cholesterol and fats and we are looking to see how cholesterol supports cell membranes,” he said.

Once thought to be the enemy of our arteries, new research has highlighted the importance of cholesterol to both cellular and lung health. Harroun’s work has also explored the importance of Vitamin E to cellular health.

Leading edge cancer treatments today include Gamma Knife Radiosurgery. Contrary to its name (the procedure isn’t surgery and doesn’t involve a knife) beams of radiation, two-hundred in total, converge on cancerous cells to more effectively kill tumors while protecting surrounding healthy tissues and provides new hope for those dealing with brain tumors and lesions.

Our history with nuclear medicine is a storied and varied. As Canada marks its 150th birthday there are many reasons to be proud of our many achievements that will continue to benefit the lives of people around the world for generations to come.

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Celebrating Canada 150: Nuclear Science and Innovation

From the birthplace of Confederation, Charlottetown, to the home of the nation’s capital, Ottawa, the fireworks send off to mark Canada’s 150th birthday is only one in a series of celebrations to acknowledge the storied history of our country. As Canada officially celebrates a century and a half we wanted to look back the contributions that our nuclear scientists have made to our country and beyond.

The latest numbers from the Canadian Cancer Society predict that 2 out of every 5 Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime. While cancer can target people at any age, people over 50 are at the greatest risk for developing some form of cancer. Over the years, numerous advancements have been made in the field of cancer research but the work done by a team of researchers in Saskatoon arguably paved the way for today’s cancer treatments.

Sylvia Fedoruk, a pioneer in the field of medical physics, was the only woman in Canada working in the field in the 1950s. Fedoruk was a member of a University of Saskatchewan team working on cobalt-60 radiation therapy. Under the guidance of Dr. Harold Johns, Fedoruk and others were the first group in Canada to successfully treat a cancer patient using cobalt-60 radiation therapy. Thanks to their pioneering work, over 70 million people around the world have benefited from this type of treatment. In fact, the benefits of cobalt-60 machines go far beyond the Canadian border as cobalt-60 radiation therapy machines have been used all over the world to treat cancer patients.

Building on the early work of scientists, advancements in nuclear medicine include the use of alpha therapies. Through a targeted approach, cancer cells are blasted from the inside out, minimizing the damage to healthy tissues. These alpha-emitting isotopes are thought to be especially effective for people that are dealing with late-stage or metastasized cancers (cancer that has spread from one part of the body to another) and could be the basis for the next wave of cancer treatments.

“It’s a magic bullet for people in the cancer field because it has the beauty of sparing healthy tissues and finding and weeding out tiny tumours,” according to Dr. Tom Ruth, Special Advisor, Emeritus, TRIUMF.

Clean, reliable and sustainable energy is one of the pillars of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Canada’s nuclear industry is a driving force of the economy, contributing over 6 billion dollars to the country and employing over 60,000 people both directly and indirectly.

Our CANDU technology helped spur opportunities for power generation. The Pickering nuclear power plant came on line in 1971 just four years after Douglas Point came online. Ontario was the first province to introduce nuclear into its electrical generation, New Brunswick would soon follow suit in the early 1980s. The efficiency and cleanliness of nuclear allowed Ontario to reduce emissions and provide energy security following the province’s decision to axe coal from electrical generation in 2014, eliminating smog days from the province. It is estimated that thanks to nuclear power production in Ontario alone, 45 million tonnes of carbon is removed from the atmosphere, equal to 10 million cars.

Canada’s history with nuclear generation goes back over half a century ago, when a team of engineers in Montreal developed the first reactor known as the National Research Experimental (NRX) reactor. The NRX, which came on line in 1947, led the way for research into isotopes and positioned Canada as a world leader in supplying the much-needed medical material all over the world ever since.

Communities are at the very core of the nuclear industry and you don’t need to look further than Cameco to see the positive impacts that community partnerships have. For over twenty-five years, Cameco Corporation has partnered with communities across Northern Saskatchewan as the largest private employer of First Nations and Metis people in Canada.

“More or less our community can have a future. Because of our young populations we need to be more sustaining and more certain, and this is one of the things that industry has brought to us, a lot of hope,” states Mike Natomagnan, the mayor of Pinehouse Lake and a former Cameco worker.

Canada’s nuclear industry continues to serve as a model for leadership, using science to find solutions to real world challenges. Our commitment to sustainable development and economic well-being is equal to our commitment to research and innovation. Powering the next generation of space travel is just one of the missions that Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is investing in.

A partnership between Technical Solutions Management (TSM), Ontario Power Generation (OPG), Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) would support and augment the Department of Energy’s program to renew the production of Pu-238, allowing scientists to continue their exploration of our solar system and beyond.

“Our hope is to land a contract to expand the amount of Pu-238 that is available for space exploration,” stated Glen Elliott, Director, Business Development, Ontario Power Generation.

If approved, within five years, we could be ready to power future space ventures with Pu-238 partially produced in Canada. The concept would rely on a commercial reactor to produce the necessary isotope, specifically OPG’s Darlington reactor.

The future of nuclear science will continue to explore ocean health and the ecosystems that are vital to our food chain thanks to research and work with isotopes. Dr. Sherwood Lollar was recently appointed to the Order of Canada for her work in geochemistry looking at the movement of groundwater and tracking environmental contaminants.

Through innovation, we will welcome the next generation of reactors. These include SNC-Lavalin’s Advanced Fuel CANDU Reactor (AFCR) which takes the used fuel from light water reactors and repurposes it as new fuel for the CANDU, thus effectively recycling an important energy-rich waste stream, while reducing considerably the volume of CANDU reactor waste. The AFCR may shortly see the light of day in China.

The next generation also includes the development of small modular reactors (SMRs), ensuring an energy future that allows for healthier communities, removing diesel from the energy mix, continuing to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions and opening the door to cut carbon from the transportation sector through the development of hydrogen fuels. The heat potential locked in future reactors could provide opportunities for community agriculture production in the form of greenhouses, affording people healthier food regardless of where they live.

Our commitment to science and research holds the promise of continued advancements and leadership in health, the environment and energy. As we look back on the first 150 years of investments in nuclear science and technology, we are excited to see what the next 150 will bring and we are confident it will continue to build on a better tomorrow and a stronger Canada for all of us.

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Nuclear Approach to Cancer Could Save Lives

While Tragically Hip front man Gord Downie may be the most recognized person to be living with glioblastoma, brain cancer affects hundreds of thousands of families every year. A bleak diagnosis, the five-year survival rate for patients aged 45 to 54 sits at just four per cent according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

However, there is reason to be hopeful. New research in nuclear medicine targets cancers like glioblastoma through an inside-out approach, giving patients a new lease on life. These small and mighty cancer fighters are known as alpha-emitting isotopes and unlike traditional radiation therapy, which blasts cells from the outside, alphas attack cancer from the inside, protecting healthy tissues while destroying diseased ones.

“It’s a magic bullet for people in the cancer field because it has the beauty of sparing healthy tissues and finding and weeding out tiny tumors,” according to Dr. Tom Ruth, Special Advisor, Emeritus, TRIUMF.

Recently, The Medical University of Warsaw beat out over 2,000 other submissions to win the Marie Curie Award from the European Association of Nuclear Medicine (EANM) for their work on alpha therapies. Their research indicated that the work of alpha therapies could extend the life of patients with brain cancer by almost two years compared to patients who weren’t treated by alpha radiation. Alpha-emitting isotopes, unlike their beta radiation counterparts, have higher energy and can only travel short distances which makes them ideal cancer fighters.

“Alpha particles fly very short distances so because of short penetration range in tissues you won’t destroy healthy cells,” stated Valery Radchenko, Research Scientist, TRIUMF.

Researchers at TRIUMF are mapping out alpha-emitting isotopes as a way of extending the life of cancer patients or curing them all-together. Alpha-therapy is thought to be especially effective for those with late-stage or metastasized cancers (cancer that has spread from one part of the body to another).

“The key to alpha is to combine them with the right biomolecule to target the cancer cells. If you can find a way to get an alpha-emitting isotope to a tumor you can potentially cure the cancer,” said Radchenko.

While alpha-therapy could be a game changer in the fight against cancer, researchers need wider access to the alpha particles and closer partnerships with the health care system in order to complete the preliminary tests required to bring alpha-therapies to the mainstream market.

“The main problem is lack of facilities for the production of a clinically relevant amount of alpha emitters. There are just several around the world so they aren’t readily available,” stressed Radchenko.

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Innovations we Need – Now, and for Generations

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

In case you missed this in the early January darkness: A Canadian team based at Vancouver-area TRIUMF has demonstrated a practical answer to the impending shortage of medical isotopes.

Technetium-99m (TC-99m), a commonly used isotope for medical imaging and diagnosis, has until now mainly been derived from molybdenum-99 from the NRU research reactor in Ontario. But the NRU is scheduled to end molybdenum production in 2016.

Industry experts were warning that this would leave global supplies of TC-99m very tight and vulnerable to shortages. But Canada’s nuclear science and technology know-how, with support from the federal government, has been working on answers. The team uses a common brand of medical cyclotron – developed and manufactured in Canada – to make TC-99m without a reactor.

Yanick Lee (right) and Ran Klein (centre) show off the Ottawa Hospital’s cyclotron.
The cyclotron at the Ottawa Hospital produces isotopes used for PET scans, which allow cardiac and cancer patients to receive precisely targeted treatments.

Nuclear technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s an integral part of our health care system, helping Canadian doctors to help their patients faster, better, and less intrusively. Not to mention an integral part of our materials science, which supports our whole manufacturing and engineering capability. Not to mention an integral part of our low-carbon, low-cost electric power supply.

Nuclear technology solves real-world problems that affect our quality of life: How long we live. How well our cars run. How safely our planes land. How affordable energy is.

As we noted in our last post, timely solutions like the isotope breakthrough may only be the tip of the iceberg compared to what nuclear innovation could bring humanity in coming decades. The world’s demand for low-carbon energy and clean air is probably the biggest single challenge we face as a species.  And it is increasingly clear that nuclear is the only minimal-carbon energy that can be there on the scale we need, when we need it.

Many reactor designs can be part of that solution, which will be global in scale. Here are some examples of CNA member organizations working in science and technology partnerships right now to make it happen:

  • Burnaby, BC-based General Fusion, which has a prototype fusion reactor, has a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, and is putting them in place with the Lawrence Berkeley National and Princeton Plasma Physics labs.
Terrestrial
Terrestrial Energy’s IMSR80.
  • Mississauga, ON-based Terrestrial Energy, which is developing integral molten salt reactors, recently announced an initial collaboration with USDOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the home of the original working MSR design.
  • CNA members GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GHNE) and Westinghouse Electric, plus Areva Federal Services, have joined with USDOE’s Argonne National Laboratory in a partnership on next-generation reactors.

National laboratories don’t form these partnerships just to make headlines. They’re looking to solve big problems. Canada and CNA members are going to be part of those answers.

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Cancer and Nuclear Medicine

Cancer and Nuclear Medicine Infographic - English

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Le cancer et la médecine nucléaire

Cancer and Nuclear Medicine Infographic - French