Saskatchewan expects to be nuclear medicine research leader

Watch above: The future of nuclear research at U of S funded

SASKATOON – A $5-million grant awarded to the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) by the provincial government will change the way scientists do research.

The money was given to the Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation at the U of S on Oct. 30, and will go toward the “people part of research,” meaning more jobs in Saskatoon.

“The types of jobs are going to be at all areas at the universities, within the health regions, various clinics, hospitals etcetera … we’re looking at this area growing and growing for many many years to come,” said Karen Chad, vice president of research at the U of S.

“Because we have the infrastructure, we now bring in the talent that’s needed.”

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The first PET/CT scanner is up and running at Saskatoon’s Royal University Hospital as of June 2013, and announced earlier this year, a cyclotron is expected to open in 2016 next to the synchrotron on campus.

All three of these devices will work together to help detect and treat diseases like cancer.

“When you bring the synergies of the cyclotron and the synchrotron together you have a wonderful innovation ecosystem that is just going to enable human, plant, and animal imaging to just reach new and phenomenal heights,” added Chad.

“Everyone knows somebody who has been affected by cancer, and what we’re trying to do is move it to the day where we can say cancer has been cured,” said Dr. Paul Babyn, head of medical imaging at the U of S and Saskatoon Health Region.

Dr. Babyn added the provincial funding will allow researchers and students to do things that they once had to rely on other provinces for. Isotopes, crucial for treatment, are currently being flown in from Hamilton, Ont.

“We will have the expertise here in the province to make compounds that are made elsewhere, like new molecules, and use them here for the patients of Saskatchewan,” explained Babyn.

“For example, we create the compound for our PET/CT which is called FDG, that’s a radioactive compound that we use that lets us visualize where in the body the patient may have a tumor, and that’s important for diagnoses as well as determining if they can have surgery or not.”

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Saskatchewan used to be a leader when it came to nuclear medicine.

Back in 1951, U of S medical physicist Dr. Harold Johns and his graduate students, including former Saskatchewan lieutenant governor Sylvia Fedoruk, became the first researchers in the world to successfully treat a cancer patient using Cobalt-60 radiation therapy. Since then, Saskatchewan research has fallen behind explained Chad.

“We used to be one of two provinces in the country without a cyclotron.”

This funding is expected to allow the province to play catch up, and then some, to the rest of Canada.

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