On the morning of March 30, TRIUMF welcomed the Honourable Greg Rickford, Minister of Natural Resources, to the laboratory. Having come to TRIUMF a year ago in his previous role as Minister of State for Science and Technology, Minister Rickford made a return visit to the lab to receive updates on our research, particularly with regard to ongoing work in the cyclotron-based production of medical isotopes.
With the aging NRU nuclear reactor at Chalk River expected to cease routine production of molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), the parent isotope of Technetium-99 (Tc-99m), in late 2016, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) has actively supported the research and development of alternative methods of production for technetium-99m. Tc-99m is the world’s most utilized medical diagnostic isotope and thousands of Canadians depend on this lifesaving tool every day. With support from two NRCan programs – the Non-reactor-based Isotope Supply Contribution Program (NISP) and the Isotope Technology Acceleration Program (ITAP) – TRIUMF brought together a national team, CycloMed99, to develop another way of producing this isotope that would ensure a safe and reliable supply for Canadians.
Minister Rickford’s visit came on the heels of two compelling achievements. In January, CycloMed99 announced that they had successfully produced enough Tc-99m in a single (six-hour) run on a medical cyclotron to serve the daily needs of a population the size of British Columbia. The following month, NSERC awarded the 2015 Brockhouse Prize to the TRIUMF-led team for their outstanding interdisciplinary work towards developing an alternative to reactor-produced medical isotopes.
During his visit, Minister Rickford met with laboratory leadership and staff, and interacted with the local members of the CycloMed99 team (see photo), which includes researchers from TRIUMF, the BC Cancer Agency, the University of British Columbia, Lawson Health Research, and the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization. The Minister toured the facilities where the team conducted their work, and even tried his hand at using the lab’s robotic manipulator arms to handle an isotope sample. The Minister thanked the team for their efforts and heard that the CycloMed99 solution is on track to have full Health Canada approval by October 2016.
As part of his visit, Minister Rickford also toured the Electron Hall, which houses TRIUMF’s new superconducting electron accelerator. Recently completed, this state-of-the-art accelerator is the centerpiece of the new ARIEL facility. It serves as a stellar example of how TRIUMF connects Canada to international partners and transfers technology and expertise to Canadian industry through collaborations with both the Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre in India and Richmond, BC-based PAVAC Industries. Over the next five years, TRIUMF expects to complete the final phase of the $100M ARIEL facility and begin unlocking frontiers in science, medicine and business.
TRIUMF is greatly appreciative of the Government of Canada’s longstanding support for our programs and we thank Minister Rickford for his visit and continued interest in our work.