Medical radioisotopes-producing facility to soon open in Kolkata

Kolkata: A high energy, indigenous particle-accelerator that churns out a special kind of radioactive material for diagnostic purposes, such as cancer detection, will be operational in a year, it was announced here Thursday.

Set up by the Department of Atomic Energy’s Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre (VECC) in south Kolkata, the medical cyclotron is being readied for the production of radioisotopes and radiopharmaceuticals for diagnostic imaging.

“The building is now ready; electrical fittings are going on. We have asked them to start the installation process. We hope to launch it in a year,” Dinesh Kumar Srivastava, director of the Kolkata-based VECC, told reporters here.

Isotopes are unique forms of natural elements and many of these varieties exhibit radioactivity. Small amounts of radioactive material are often used to diagnose and treat diseases as part of nuclear medicine.

He was in conversation with eminent physicist Bikash Sinha, who was instrumental in the establishment of the cyclotron, estimated to be built at a cost of Rs.243 crores.

In addition to its capacity to produce Positron Emission Tomography (PET) isotopes for imaging or scanning processes, the cyclotron will also generate Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) isotopes, special class of the isotopes which can be used to zero-in on cancer cells, scan how blood flows to tissues and organs etc.

“Right now India imports all the SPECT isotopes… (which are) very expensive. These are special isotopes which can detect tumours in the body. They are not produced anywhere in the country,” Sinha, a former VECC chief, said.

The accelerator will also be used for front-line research experiments in the fields of material sciences, radiochemistry, liquid metal target development etc., said Srivastava.

According to VECC, in India, reactor produced radiopharmaceuticals have been routinely used by the nuclear medicine centres all over the country.

Country’s first medical cyclotron dedicated to medical radioisotope production was installed in Mumbai by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in 2002.

Thereafter, few more cyclotrons were installed in Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad. All these are low-energy cyclotrons meant for production of PET radioisotopes, said Srivastava.