Hadassah Medical Center Installs New Cyclotron System—One of Only a Handful Worldwide

23Jul10

Hadassah International — At two a.m. on a recent Friday morning, the Hadassah Medical Center installed a new $1.7 million Cyclotron System—one of a handful worldwide.

The cyclotron synthesizes radioactive materials which are used in the highly advanced diagnostic technology known as PET or positron emission tomography.  It is an important research tool as well, producing radiopharmaceuticals for non-invasive study of human biology.

“It was very dramatic, seeing our new cyclotron suspended above us in the night sky,” says Prof. Eyal Mishani, Director of Cyclotron Radiochemistry in Hadassah’s Medical Biophysics and Nuclear Medicine Department.  “It was, however, also a long and nerve-wracking project,” he reports, since getting the cyclotron into its bunker was only the first stage of a complicated installation. Since the particle accelerator is a mini-nuclear reactor which accelerates charged particles to high energies, the roof of the bunker had to be hermetically plugged with a concrete radiation shield.  “The roof-plug weighs 75 tons,” says Prof. Mishani.  “No crane could bear this weight, so the plug went on in three 25-ton layers, each nail-bitingly winched up and eased into place.”

Comprising two D-shaped disks linked by a giant magnet, the cyclotron manufactures radio-labeled molecules which are injected into patients, enabling the PET scan to provide visualizations of organs and bodily tissues.  Because it picks up not only the anatomical information shown by other imaging methods but also metabolic and biochemical activity, PET enables physicians to diagnose and evaluate cancers and other disorders with extreme precision.

The new system is Hadassah’s second cyclotron.  The first arrived 13 years ago and remains the only hospital-based cyclotron in the country.  In 2009 alone, the most common of the radioactive pharmaceuticals the cyclotron produces was used in 3,200 PET scans, some at Hadassah and some at other hospitals in Israel. The machine, however, “can no longer keep up with the demand for either diagnostic or research applications,” reports Prof. Mishani.  Nor, he adds, is it able to produce all the unique isotopes needed for PET.  “Different biological compounds are best visualized by different radiopharmaceuticals,” he explains.  “Most cyclotrons make only two or three, but our new one will be able to produce at least half a dozen different kinds, including some that, until now, we’ve had to buy from Russia and Germany.”

With the new cyclotron safely inside its radiation-proof bunker, its roof in place, adjacent to the Radiochemistry Lab–balancing the original cyclotron and its bunker on the other side of the Lab–the next step is to connect it to the computer system and complete the radiation system.  Before the end of summer, it will be in operation.

Prof. Mishani explains, “Once the new cyclotron is up and running, we’ll begin upgrading the original machine. We’ll then connect the two cyclotrons so they are controlled by one computer system, which will allow us to be very flexible in production.”  Connecting two cyclotrons to one another and to the production robot in the biochemistry lab is very rare, Prof. Mishani reports.  “There are only a handful of such systems in the world.”

“The cyclotron has enormous potential for therapy,” says Prof. Mishani.  “With the facilities and expertise we have at Hadassah, we’re well positioned to help develop this future.”

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