$10m boosts can­cer scan avail­abil­ity

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health - Adam Cress­well

Health ed­i­tor

ANU­CLEAR imag­ing tech­nol­ogy known as PET scans — used to cre­ate high-qual­ity images of in­ter­nal or­gans — may be­come more eas­ily avail­able af­ter the fed­eral Gov­ern­ment yes­ter­day an­nounced a $10 mil­lion deal to build a new pro­duc­tion plant.

PET — which stands for positron emis­sion to­mog­ra­phy — is mainly used to di­ag­nose and mon­i­tor can­cers. It works by in­ject­ing pa­tients with a ra­dioac­tive tracer, which due to its ra­dioac­tiv­ity is vis­i­ble on the scan­ner.

The or­gans or tis­sues that take up more of this sub­stance show up more in­tensely on the re­sult­ing full-colour, 3D scan im­age — in­di­cat­ing greater cel­lu­lar or dis­ease ac­tiv­ity.

The most com­monly used tracer sub­stance is a glu­cose com­pound called flu­o­rodeoxyglu­cose (FDG), which is used to high­light high­glu­cose-us­ing cells such as those in the brain or kid­neys, or can­cer cells. The flu­o­rine in the FDG mol­e­cule is the ra­dioac­tive iso­tope flu­o­rine-18.

Al­though be­ing one of the fastest-grow­ing imag­ing tech­niques in the world, the avail­abil­ity of PET has been held back by the fact that FDG or other ra­dioac­tive tracer has to be made in a com­plex ma­chine called a cy­clotron, a type of par­ti­cle ac­cel­er­a­tor. And FDG has a half-life of just 110 min­utes, af­ter which its use­ful­ness is greatly re­duced. This means FDG can­not be im­ported or stored, and must be man­u­fac­tured shortly be­fore use.

While a few hos­pi­tals have built cy­clotrons for this pur­pose, such ma­chines are ex­pen­sive.

In the new deal, the Aus­tralian Nu­clear Science and Tech­nol­ogy Or­gan­i­sa­tion ( ANSTO) will pro­vide $5 mil­lion to build two new cy­clotrons at its Lu­cas Heights site in Syd­ney’s south, which will make FDG.

ANSTO will loan a fur­ther $5 mil­lion to a new com­pany called Aus­tralian Petnet, which will op­er­ate as a com­mer­cial ven­ture in run­ning the cy­clotrons and sell­ing FDG to hos­pi­tals. Due to FDG’s half-life, th­ese will be mainly in NSW and the ACT.

Tech­nol­ogy gi­ant Siemens will also pro­vide $150,000 to fund re­search.

ANSTO said the deal was ‘‘ likely to re­duce the cost of the ra­dioac­tive tracer annd en­able hos­pi­tals to use their cap­i­tal in­vest­ment for PET scan­ners rather than cy­clotrons’’.

ANSTO ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Ian Smith said many Aus­tralian pa­tients were cur­rently miss­ing out on PET scans and the short­age of fa­cil­i­ties was largely due to cost.

Last year thou­sands of pa­tients in NSW alone could not ac­cess PET treat­ment and hav­ing this new pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity will help pro­vide the nec­es­sary prod­uct to al­low ex­pan­sion of th­ese ser­vices, not only in NSW but also other states within trans­port dis­tance,’’ he Smith said.

An ANSTO spokes­woman said the Ther­a­peu­tic Goods Ad­min­is­tra­tion would have to ap­prove the process for mak­ing the FDG or other tracer sub­stances.

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