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NSERC Presents 2 Minutes With Paul Schaffer (TRIUMF), François Bénard (The University of British Columbia), and Thomas J. Ruth (TRIUMF)


Video Name

2 Minutes with Paul Schaffer


NSERC Communications



Release Date

February 17, 2015


Canada’s hospitals are on the verge of having a local supply of isotopes for medical imaging thanks to a new development by an innovative team of researchers focused on preventing future isotope shortages. The medical radioisotope technetium 99m (99mTC) is the world standard for medical imaging to diagnose cancer and heart disease. Their solution allows existing cyclotrons to produce enough 99mTC in just one night to meet the daily needs of most hospitals. Dr. Schaffer, Dr. Bénard and Dr. Ruth won NSERC's 2015 Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering.

Paul Schaffer

Currently, Canada produces a large portion of the world's supply of this very important medical isotope, technetium-99m. The isotope is used to save lives, essentially. It's used to image patients that are suffering from cardiac ailments, cancer, and other diseases that require the imaging of technetium.

When Chalk River shuts down, a very significant portion of that global supply will go with it. The technology we're working on today is using cyclotrons already installed in hospitals throughout the country to produce a radioactive product, the Isotope 1. It would do it in the hospital where the isotope would be used, in the region where it could be shipped locally. We don't produce long-lived radioactive waste that nuclear reactors would, nor do we use enriched uranium to produce this isotope. So in that sense, it's a greener technology as well. It is simply an innovation and an extension of what the health care system is currently working on and working toward, which is a regional supply of medical isotopes.

It's been a fantastic team, working together, four institutions in total.

François Bénard

There were a lot of sceptics. People said it couldn't be done. And I think what really was the successful outcome of this project was a team coming together and looking at this with an open mind and tackling one of the challenges after another.

Thomas J. Ruth

We've produced well over a dozen publications, we've trained over 179 students at various levels of their training, we have involved various other companies in our approaches. So I think there are clear metrics for the success of it.

Paul Schaffer

This project is a wonderful example of how funding for fundamental research can lead to tangible benefits for society. We see that as a very important investment of taxpayer money, and we take that investment very seriously. And when we have an opportunity like this present itself, a problem present itself, we're happy to say we have the expertise and the infrastructure in place to address that unmet need.