Advancing Nuclear Medicine – New U of S Initiatives

Building on its history of excellence in medical physics and accelerator technology, the University of Saskatchewan is well-positioned to lead the country in nuclear medicine, playing a lead role in biomedical imaging and nuclear research, development and training. Among these key initiatives:

These initiatives enhance the growing U of S biomedical cluster which includes an array of expertise and collaborative opportunities through the physics department, College of Medicine, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, Saskatoon Cancer Centre, Royal University Hospital, and the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac).

Bio-Medical Imaging and Therapy (BMIT) Beamlines at the Canadian Light Source

Sharper Image Brings Tiny Tumors to Light

BMIT Leader Dean Chapman

BMIT Leader Dean Chapman

University of Saskatchewan scientists are using synchrotron light to develop technology that provides unprecedented image quality and will lead to better diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancer and arthritis.

Their state-of-the-art tool is the $17- million BioMedical Imaging and Therapy (BMIT) beamline facility housed in the addition at the front of the Canadian Light Source building. BMIT is unique in North America and one of only a handful of such facilities in the world. It currently undertakes about 60 experiments per year with scientists from across Canada.

When fully operational in 2013, BMIT will be capable of imaging and therapy research involving plants and animals of all sizes—from hamsters to horses—and one day, humans.

The aim is to answer important questions about diseases and follow their progression in ways that can’t be done as effectively with other techniques such as conventional X-ray machines or MRI. One technique—diffraction-enhanced imaging (DEI)—uses synchrotron X-rays to capture images of soft tissues that are invisible to normal X-ray machines.

With DEI, scientists measure how synchrotron-generated X-rays diffract when they pass through various tissues, creating high-resolution images of muscles and organs that clearly reveal details such as the extent of cancer tumors in breast tissue.

DEI can provide 33 times greater image contrast and dramatically less radiation exposure than regular X-rays. The technique promises better cancer detection, particularly in mammography.

In December of 2008, the BMIT research team captured the first diffraction-enhanced images of a mouse on one of the facility’s two beamlines. “We were stunned by how good our images turned out to be from the start,” said project leader Dean Chapman, Canada Research Chair in X-Ray Imaging and a co-developer of the technique.

BMIT research involves 150 researchers from across Canada including those in human medicine, veterinary medicine and basic sciences. For instance, a U of S bone and joint imaging group is using DEI to assess bone strength and structure, with potential application for osteoporosis.

“Because of our connection with the medical community—both veterinary medicine and also human health—this is a very unique environment,” Chapman said.

Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation (CCNI)

Advancing R&D in Nuclear Medicine, Materials, Energy and Environment


Premier Brad Wall, Dr. Sylvia Fedoruk, Saskatchewan Minister for Innovation Rob Norris and U of S President Peter MacKinnon view a betatron particle accelerator built at the U of S in the 1960s for plasma research.

In March of 2011, the Saskatchewan government announced a $30-million funding commitment for the Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation (CCNI), a University of Saskatchewan research centre (Type C) that builds on U of S historical strengths in areas such as nuclear medicine, accelerator technology and materials sciences research.

Through partnership investments, the centre will place Saskatchewan among global leaders in nuclear research, development and training.

Aligned with the U of S signature area “Energy and Mineral Resources: Technology and Public Policy for a Sustainable Environment”, the CCNI will operate as a subsidiary of the university and develop partnerships in nuclear science and technology that support the U of S research and academic mission.

The CCNI will serve as a funding agency for academic programming and research and development projects, and will oversee nuclear facilities on campus such as the cyclotron. The centre will create conditions for faculty to propose and perform research, engaging partners from other research institutions and industries in Canada and around the world to:

  • Advance nuclear medicine and knowledge,
  • Develop better materials for widespread applications (energy, health, environment, manufacturing, etc.),
  • Improve safety and other engineering of nuclear energy systems, and
  • Understand how to reap the benefits and manage the risks of nuclear technology for society and the environment.

Establishment of the CCNI was approved by University Council Sept. 18, 2011.

University of Saskatchewan Cyclotron

University of Saskatchewan Cyclotron

University of Saskatchewan Cyclotron

Accelerating Innovation for Medical Diagnosis and Treatment

On March 4, 2011, the federal and provincial governments announced $17 million to build a cyclotron on campus as a resource for research, development and training.

This particle accelerator will be used to research isotope use and detection technologies for medical diagnosis and treatment and to train operators of accelerators and future researchers in the area of accelerator physics.

The cyclotron will also produce short-lived radioactive isotopes for use in Saskatchewan’s first PET-CT (Position Emission Tomography – Computed Tomography) scanner.

The cyclotron will be constructed in an existing building, located between the Canadian Light Source and the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, which is to be vacated in April 2012. Construction and testing of the cyclotron is expected to take up to two years. It is anticipated that the cyclotron will be established as a business unit of the Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation.

Funding for the PET-CT scanner was also announced on March 4th. Funded jointly by both the Saskatchewan government the Royal University Hospital Foundation, the scanner will be installed at Royal University Hospital. Currently nearly 300 people from Saskatchewan travel out-of-province each year to obtain PET scans which provide clinical information not available from MRI exams or CT scans. Once operational, the PET-CT scanner will have the capacity to provide around 2,000 scans yearly.

Canadian Light Source Medical Isotope Project

Advancing the Search for a Safe and Reliable Supply of Medical Isotopes

Mark de Jong

Mark de Jong, CLS Director of Accelerators

Producing medical isotopes, cheaply and reliably without using a nuclear reactor or highly enriched uranium is the aim of a new research project led by the Canadian Light Source (CLS), along with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes and medical researchers from the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and Toronto’s University Health Network.

In January, 2011, the CLS at the University of Saskatchewan was awarded $12 million from the federal and provincial governments to build a new linear accelerator and support research into the production of isotopes for medical diagnosis and treatment.

The two-year pilot project will involve constructing and testing a prototype production facility to examine the technical and economic feasibility of producing medical isotopes using high-energy X-rays from a particle accelerator.

If the approach proves technically and economically feasible, it is envisioned that accelerator clusters in one or more locations in Canada would produce molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), which decays into technetium-99m (Tc-99m)—the isotope used in approximately 5,500 diagnostic medical procedures in Canada every day.

The Mo-99 would be transported to hospitals for recovery of the Tc-99m using a radionuclide separator. It is estimated that two or three such systems would be able to meet Canadian demand.

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The Cancer Bomb Exhibit

View the exhibition at the Western Development Museum.