- Patient Olga Campbell treated with cobalt-60 therapy in 1953; from a 1994 CBC interview
In 1951, University of Saskatchewan medical physicist Dr. Harold Johns and his graduate students became the first researchers in the world to successfully treat a cancer patient using cobalt-60 radiation therapy. This innovative technology—dubbed the “cobalt bomb” by the media - revolutionized cancer treatment and saved the lives of millions of cancer patients around the world.
The original calibrated cobalt-60 machine—which treated more than 6,700 patients—was designed by Johns at the U of S and is now permanently housed at the Saskatoon Western Development Museum (WDM ). This radiation machine bombarded cancers deep in the body where previous therapies had been ineffective. In effect, it dropped a bomb on cancer.
Building on its long history of excellence in medical physics and accelerator technology, the University of Saskatchewan is a leader in medical imaging technologies and applications. Among the milestones:
- World’s first betatron used in a cancer treatment program
- World’s first effective radiation machine for cancer treatment (cobalt-60 unit)
- Canada’s only synchrotron—the Canadian Light Source (CLS)
- North America’s first Biomedical Imaging and Therapy Beamline (BMIT at the CLS)
In 2011, three new major initiatives related to nuclear medicine research at U of S were announced:
- Pilot project to produce medical isotopes from a new particle accelerator at the CLS
- Cyclotron for research and production of isotopes for the province’s first PET-CT scanner
- Nuclear R&D institute at U of S—Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation
Explore on this website the WDM on-line exhibit “The Cancer Bomb”, the timeline of U of S achievement in medical imaging, videos of the people who made this all happen, and stories about the exciting U of S research that is carrying on this legacy.