$10m boosts cancer scan availability
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.