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Aurora magazine

CERN helps medical research against cancer

The new CERN MEDICIS facility has produced radioisotopes for medical research for the first time. The goal was to provide a wide range of radioisotopes, some of which can only be produced by CERN itself. Radioisotopes will primarily be used in hospitals and research centers in Switzerland and Europe. The doctors will use them for diagnostic purposes and for cancer treatments.

Radioisotopes are used in precision medicine to diagnose tumors and heart disease. They also serve to direct small amounts of radiation exactly where needed. In this way the tumor is hit and very little healthy tissue is touched. CERN MEDICIS has created special types of radioisotopes, thus expanding the number of applications.

Radioisotopes are defined as naturally radioactive isotopes. Some types are found everywhere in minimal quantities, while others do not exist in nature. To obtain the latter it is necessary to use a particle accelerator. MEDICIS researchers used a proton beam present at ISOLDE, a CERN laboratory. They thus obtained Terbium 155Tb, a promising radioisotope for the diagnosis of prostate cancer.

The scientific community extensively uses radioisotopes, but many of these are not the best for their intended purpose. MEDICIS aims to create radioisotopes tailored to the various needs, so as to improve diagnostics and therapies. Once the radioisotopes have been extracted, the researchers attach them to a molecule so that it binds to the tumor. This makes them injectable in the area affected by the tumor, without affecting other parts of the body.