The prime example of accelerator technology for fighting cancer
CERN-MEDICIS (Medical Isotopes Collected from ISOLDE) is a one-of-a-kind infrastructure designed to produce a new generation of non-conventional radioisotopes with potential applications in precision medicine and theranostics (therapeutics and diagnostics). These radioisotopes not only help diagnose cancers and other diseases, but can also deliver precise radiation doses to treat diseased cells without destroying the surrounding healthy tissue.
The development of innovative radiopharmaceuticals is in fact strongly connected to the availability of novel types of radioisopotes that are not readily produced by traditional methods. MEDICIS aims to increase the range of radioisotopes, thanks to its unique set-up that includes an irradiation station on a high-energy proton beam and a radioisotope mass-separation beam-line.
This facility is a prime example of how CERN’s accelerator technology can be deployed for medical research. MEDICIS expands the range of radioisotopes – some of which can be made only at CERN – and sends them to partner hospitals and research centres for further studies. During its 2019 and 2020 harvesting campaigns, for example, MEDICIS demonstrated the capability of purifying isotopes such as 169Er or 153Sm to new purity grades, making them suitable for innovative treatments such as targeted radioimmunotherapy.
Progress in nuclear medicine has always been connected to the availability of novel radioisotopes.
MEDICIS was initiated in 2010 by CERN, using contributions from the CERN Knowledge Transfer Fund, private foundations and partner institutes, while also benefitting from a European Commission Marie Skłodowska-Curie training grant. Since December 2017, it has been entirely dedicated to the production of unconventional radioisotopes whose properties are useful to enhance the precision of both patient imaging and treatment.
To make MEDICIS a success, CERN capitalised on its experience of the ISOLDE facility. For more than 50 years, this facility has been using the proton beam from CERNs PS Booster to produce over 1300 different isotopes from 73 chemical elements, thus helping research in many areas, from nuclear physics to the life sciences. During proton-beam operation, MEDICIS works by placing a second target behind ISOLDE’s, so it is entirely transparent to its operation.
MEDICIS is part of the project PRISMAP – the European medical isotope programme, supported by the European Commission. This consortium of 23 institutes works to produce high purity isotopes by mass separation. This EU project is approved for funding by the Research Infrastructures program INFRA-2-2020 of Horizon 2020 of the European Commission.