UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Radiology Department has launched a new cyclotron facility that will help create isotopes used in imaging, cancer research, and for tracking cancers in the body.
The facility, part of the Bill and Rita Clements Advanced Medical Imaging Building on the North Campus near the Moncrief Radiation Oncology Building, uses magnets to generate radioactive isotopes that are used as tracers. These can help detect where treatments should be focused or help oncologists track how well therapies are working.
“While it is planned for translational and clinical research, this new technology will ultimately result in more effective patient care,” said Dr. Xiankai Sun, Director of UT Southwestern’s Cyclotron and Radiochemistry Program, and Associate Professor of Radiology and the Advanced Imaging Research Center (AIRC).
Radioactive isotopes decay, producing positrons - the key to PET (positron-emission tomography) scans, which are used in diagnosis and planning treatment for many types of cancer. Cancer cells consume the isotopes produced by the cyclotron, revealing which are the cancerous cells and allowing the physicians and imaging specialists to track them, or see whether, after a therapy is given, the cancer is responding to therapy.
“Positron-emission tomography, enabled by short-lived radiotracers produced by an on-site cyclotron, is an important, non-invasive, medical imaging tool for disease diagnosis, staging, and post-therapy evaluation,” said Dr. Sun, who holds the Dr. Jack Krohmer Professorship in Radiation Physics.
Because the isotopes don’t have a long lifespan - some as short as two minutes - they can be difficult to transport. Producing them on site can allow more scanning opportunities and more types of isotopes to be produced for expanded research endeavors. It also helps reduce costs otherwise associated with transporting them.
“The cyclotron makes short-lived, biomedical radioisotopes readily available on campus, alleviating current challenges in obtaining such radioisotopes from another location, and significantly expanding the basic science and clinical research opportunities through PET,” Dr. Sun said.
The cyclotron is expected to aid in a wide variety of studies and clinical trials research across many disciplines, including Radiology, the Advanced Imaging Research Center, the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, Cardiology, Immunology, Psychiatry, Biochemistry, Pharmacology, and areas involving diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia.
“Developing the full potential of PET will contribute to UT Southwestern’s determination to build a world-class imaging research program, and boost the existing recognized strengths of UT Southwestern in biology, genetics, metabolism, and cancer research,” said Dr. Neil Rofsky, Chairman of Radiology and Director of Translational Research for UT Southwestern’s Advanced Imaging Research Center.
“With the cyclotron as a new core resource, scientists, engineers, and medical professionals across disciplines will be able to work together toward the development and implementation of the latest imaging technologies for better patient care,” said Dr. Rofsky, who holds the Effie and Wofford Cain Distinguished Chair in Diagnostic Imaging. “While there is strong emphasis on cancer applications, the products we create from the cyclotron will enable discoveries that span across multiple areas of medicine and physiology.”
The Radiology Department’s Cyclotron and Radiochemistry Program was established to leverage the cutting-edge imaging technology of positron-emission tomography for biomedical research, under the auspices of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) and UT Southwestern, with important input from the Advanced Imaging Research Center and its Director, Dr. Dean Sherry, Professor of Radiology and with the AIRC at UT Southwestern, and Professor of Chemistry at UT Dallas, where he holds the Cecil H. and Ida Green Distinguished Chair in Systems Biology. The technology is especially suited for understanding cancer initiation and progression mechanisms, intermediary metabolism of cancer cells, prognostic evaluation of cancer patients, and eventually the early and individualized diagnosis and corresponding efficacious treatment of cancer.
UT Southwestern’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in North Texas and one of just 68 NCI-designated cancer centers in the nation. The Simmons Cancer Center includes 13 major cancer care programs with a focus on treating the whole individual with innovative treatments, while fostering research that has the potential to improve patient care and prevention of cancer worldwide. In addition, the Center’s education and training programs support and develop the next generation of cancer researchers and clinicians.
The Simmons Cancer Center is among only 30 U.S. cancer research centers to be named a National Clinical Trials Network Lead Academic Participating Site, a prestigious new designation by the NCI, and the only Cancer Center in North Texas to be so designated. The designation and associated funding is designed to bolster the cancer center’s clinical cancer research for adults and to provide patients access to cancer research trials sponsored by the NCI, where promising new drugs often are tested.