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Life Science

Accelerator science is the backbone of TRIUMF’s life science program, a program that maintains a strong isotope and radiopharmaceutical production capability enabled by four onsite cyclotrons. These cyclotrons drive the spectrum of research encompassed by the division, which starts with the physics of particle acceleration and target bombardment, followed by a deep radiochemistry capability in radiopharmaceutical production, which is ultimately used for biological and imaging studies with our collaborators. Molecular imaging with the tracers produced at TRIUMF is used to gain an understanding of disease at the molecular level.

To focus our efforts, the division maintains three core competencies: applied ion beam production, nuclear chemistry and applied isotope production. The division has been structured, our roles within our collaborations are defined by, and our future efforts are guided with these competencies in mind. 

Applied Ion Beams

  • Innovating new target solutions that are high powered and versatile
  • Enabling global cyclotron infrastructure to meet isotope production requirements at hospitals today

Nuclear Chemistry

  • Enhancing existing isotopes and boosting versatility
  • Exploring new, promising isotopes of the future

Applied Isotopes

  • Enabling early disease detection using novel molecular signatures
  • Enabling a personalized healthcare system to detect, treat, and monitor neurodegenerative disease and cancer for the individual diseases they are

TRIUMF’s Life Sciences division is built upon a long-standing collaboration with the Pacific Parkinson’s Research Centre, for which we routinely provide various tracers for human pre-clinical imaging studies. These studies aim to establish the relationship between dysfunction in the dopamine neurotransmitter system and the progression of Parkinson’s disease, but also include studies into other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The tracers produced are often established, small-molecule pre-clinical and/or clinical imaging agents with a heavy focus on safety and good manufacturing (GMP) processes. The purpose of producing these radiopharmaceuticals is to enable our partners to perform cutting-edge imaging research to understand disease initiation, progression, patient stratification and treatment response. This effort defines TRIUMF’s core Nuclear Medicine program.

In addition to its core efforts, TRIUMF strives to make new discoveries in life sciences and the related fields of research. By formally recognizing TRIUMF’s deep expertise in each of the three aforementioned core areas, the Nuclear Medicine group and its partners have mobilized and secured over $8.5 million in grant and contribution funding since 2009. Several of these funding opportunities also provided a means to establish or enhance existing collaborations with other radiopharmaceutical centres across the country. The focus of these funds ranged from improving TRIUMF’s aging chemistry facilities for radiopharmaceutical production under GMP guidelines, to leveraging TRIUMF’s deep expertise in accelerator-based isotope production to address the recent medical isotope crisis.

All of the recent funding successes have been short-duration, high-impact opportunities that are a testament to TRIUMF’s reputation and ability to address some of the most pressing technological challenges in the field today. Moving forward, the division will continue to focus on research within the framework of our core competencies and will be either in i) the development of platform technology to advance the field of accelerator-based medical isotope production and also to better enable radiopharmaceutical development or ii) the development of novel isotope production and isolation methods for the design and synthesis of novel large molecular weight radiotracers which includes labeling peptides, proteins, oligonucleotides and peptide nucleic acids with radiometals.

Primary Goals

  1. Ready Canada for the Chalk River reactor shutdown in 2018.
    • TRIUMF’s flagship innovation effort to demonstrate non-reactor, alternative production technology for technetium-99m (99mTc), the world’s most widely-used medical isotope.
  2. Understand the molecular and biochemical origin of Parkinson's disease.
    • A program that provides radioactive tracers for the UBC Parkinson's Research Program.
  3. Develop new ways of diagnosing, staging, and monitoring cancer treatment using positron- and single-photon emission tomography.
    • A collaborative effort in molecular imaging applied to cancer with the BC Cancer Agency.


TRIUMF’s life sciences program is literally saving lives every day through its scientific projects and collaborations. A critical diagnostic imaging drug (FDG) is sent to BC Cancer Agency (BCCA) each day to diagnose cancer, determine treatment regimes, and follow treatment efficacy. Several thousand British Columbians have been helped with this TRIUMF-BCCA program. In another program, over a hundred patients suffering from ocular melanoma have been successfully treated and cured by the proton irradiation facility at TRIUMF.

The nuclear medicine group at TRIUMF provides facilities, resources, and expertise for three main collaborations: 

PET Centre

Positron Emission Tomography: The Gold Standard for Cancer Detection


Proton Eye Therapy

Ocular Melanoma Treatment Facility


An Innovative Solution 
to the World's Medical 
Isotope Shortage