Dr. Guillem Dayer and the “New Wave” of Young Scientists

Thunder Bay's Newest Scientists

Dr. Guillem Dayer is part of the “new wave” of young scientists in Thunder Bay. Two years ago, he moved here to join the Zehbe Group at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute. He saw working with Dr. Ingeborg Zehbe as a great opportunity. And the story of how he got here is fascinating.

Dr. Dayer grew up in the east-central African country of Burundi. His family moved back to his father’s home country of Switzerland in 1994 during Burundi’s civil war. He studied biology at university (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne); malaria and giardia, both parasites common to Africa, were obvious research interests for Dr. Dayer.

“That’s what triggered me to work in the parasitical field,” he said.

Dr. Dayer came to Canada to continue his studies and earned his PhD from Trent University in 2017. He joined the Zehbe Group two years ago on a postdoctoral fellowship to research cervical cancer and oral cancer. What attracted Dr. Dayer was the role of proteins from the human papillomavirus (HPV) in those diseases and how to target them effectively.

“I was always specifically interested in working with proteins,” he said.

Last November, Dr. Dayer was awarded a prestigious Mitacs grant to investigate how to prevent the E6 protein in HPV from blocking a cell’s immune system. Normally, an infection will trigger an alarm in a cell to stop the spread. But E6 blocks that alarm. The infection multiplies and causes more mutations, which can lead to cervical and other cancers. Dr. Dayer’s research will try to find a way to interrupt the E6 protein and turn the alarm back on.

His work builds upon research by Dr. Ingeborg Zehbe, as well as two other of her mentees, Dr. Melissa Togtema and Dr. Robert Jackson. Their research, funded in part by the Health Sciences Foundation, helped discover that the E6 protein is the main culprit in cervical cancer development.

Dr. Togtema and Dr. Jackson are also a part of our new wave of scientists. Unlike Dr. Dayer, they are local – something that would be unheard of even 15 years ago. Dr. Togtema grew up in Manitouwadge and completed her Honours Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Toronto before moving back to study with Dr. Zehbe. She received her master’s degree in August 2013 and then her doctorate in November 2018. Dr. Jackson grew up in Thunder Bay and got his Honours Bachelor of Science at Lakehead University. He joined Dr. Zehbe’s lab in 2010 and received his master’s degree in 2012 and his doctorate in May 2019. He moved to become a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Arizona.

Dr. Dayer may not be local originally, but he plans to make Thunder Bay his home. With Thunder Bay’s unique research partnerships between the Health Research Institute, the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, Lakehead University, NOSM, and others, it’s an ideal research environment for him.
“I felt like there was a lot of potential here for this project,” he said. “We can’t do research solely in a university or lab setting. We’ll need to work with a medical facility (for clinical trials) at some point.”
Dr. Dayer hopes to secure a professorship at Lakehead and continue his research here.

You can help support local research, too! Donate online at healthsciencesfoundation.ca/donate-now or call our Donation Centre at (807) 345-4673.

New Research Grant to Fund Cervical Cancer Treatment in Development in Thunder Bay

Dr. Guillem Dayer, a researcher at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute, won a prestigious Mitacs grant to continue research into new cervical cancer treatments. As part of the Zehbe Group, his research will build on the work of Dr. Ingeborg Zehbe, Dr. Melissa Togtema, and Dr. Robert Jackson into cervical cancer- and oral cancer-fighting molecules.

“The project that I’m working on will determine how we can use these molecules as potential therapies,” Dr. Dayer said.

Officially, Dr. Dayer’s grant is for the “development, implementation, and validation of new anti-E6 therapeutics for the treatment of HPV-associated cancer”. As complicated as that sounds, the concept is fairly simple.

Cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). It is a common virus that almost all sexually active people get at some point in their lives. Most people clear the virus, just as they would a cold. An “alarm” activates and each infected cell shuts down. However, sometimes the infection doesn’t go away, which could lead to cancer development.

“The more these cells multiply, the more mutations that can occur and then make things worse – it can become a malignant cancer,” Dr. Dayer said.

Thanks in part to the Zehbe Group’s research, we now know that a specific protein – the E6 protein – blocks the alarm in the cell. You can picture it as bank robbers spraying security cameras. If security doesn’t know there are robbers in the bank, they won’t know anything is wrong.

“The strategy is to target the E6 protein,” Dr. Dayer said. “If we block E6, the alarm will switch back on. The cells will ‘kill’ themselves, if you like, before they can do any harm.”

Dr. Dayer will study this approach using cells in the lab. Years from now, his research could lead to clinical trials. Treatments could use another technology developed in part at the Health Research Institute – HIFU (high-intensity focused ultrasound). HIFU helps target only affected cells. The molecules designed to block the E6 protein would be encapsulated in “microbubbles” and sent to the affected area. HIFU would heat up the bubbles until they burst, releasing the molecules. The result is personalized, more targeted treatments to improve patient care.

But that’s years away. For the moment, Dr. Dayer is focused on Step 1: finding the best way of blocking E6. “This research wouldn’t be possible without the support of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation, TBRHRI, Mitacs and Lakehead University,” Dr. Dayer said. “I would like to thank everyone who supports local research in our region.”

You can help our scientists make new discoveries, too. Your donation to the Health Sciences Discovery Fund will support all of our researchers find new treatments to help patients in Northwestern Ontario. Call our Donation Centre at (807) 345-4673 or donate online at healthsciencesfoundation.ca/donate

Health Research Institute Board Member Profile: John Dixon

John Dixon

My research vision is to embed principles of two-eyed seeing into the development and translation of evidence-based health and social interventions for Indigenous led practice, holistic community-based prevention efforts, harm reduction, and changes that support the de-commodification of First Nation peoples in the health care system.

Substance misuse issues in our region are complex social and health issues. In order to be effective, interventions require evidence-based approaches, an understanding of the biological, psychosocial and social factors and an acknowledgement of the important impact of cultural, societal, and policy contexts.

I am honored to represent Dilico Anishinabek Family Care as a member of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute Board and to bring a different lens to the conversation. I was inspired to join the Board to support work that makes a difference for our region, to reduce health inequities, but more importantly to inform and enhance interventions and services that improve population health at a systems level in the North.

In terms of the Health Research Institute itself, it is important for people to understand the diversity of research that is underway to inform the future of the health care system and to foster innovation in the delivery of care to populations in the North. The Health Research Institute is rich in collaborative partnerships and relationships that allow for the cultivation of a talented landscape of learners and scientists interacting and solving some of our most pressing societal concerns while building the knowledge base to support future work.

I am a proud band member of the Mississaugas of the Credit and father of three children. I have 20 years of experience in the addiction and mental health sector, spent primarily working with Indigenous populations. I have been honored to serve as the Director of Mental Health and Addictions for Dilico Anishinabek Family Care since 2013. In this role, I have advocated and collaborated tirelessly to build the evidence base for cultural interventions and to build out a continuum of addiction and mental health care that is responsive to the complex wellness needs of the people we serve. I was born and raised in Port Dover, Ontario and relocated to attend Lakehead University and fell in love with the lifestyle and climate of Thunder Bay.

Hospital’s President and CEO and CEO of the Health Research Institute Announces Planned Retirement

Jean Bartkowiak

Jean Bartkowiak, President & CEO of Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and CEO of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute, plans to retire at the end of his contract in January, 2021.

“Mr. Bartkowiak has always been transparent regarding his planned retirement and remains committed to providing effective leadership as he completes his term,” said Dr. Andrew Dean, Chair, Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute Board of Directors. “While we regret his upcoming departure, it provides opportunity to celebrate Mr. Bartkowiak’s significant contributions to our Hospital and Health Research Institute.”

The Boards of Directors are highly pleased by Mr. Bartkowiak’s performance and ongoing commitment to Hospital patients, their families and staff as well as to the Health Research Institute. His leadership has garnered an impressive list of achievements, including the voluntary integration of the Northwest Health Alliance, the development and expansion of several regional clinical programs that foster safe, quality, specialized care close to home, opening the Transitional Care Unit at Hogarth Riverview Manor to improve patient flow, organizational restructuring to better meet the needs of our Hospital, partnering with Indigenous leaders and communities to advance their health priorities, the fostering of “smart health” research, and an accreditation score of 98.4% from Accreditation Canada.

Mr. Bartkowiak is committed to leading several more important activities prior to his departure. His priorities for his next and final year include the development of the next strategic plan that will focus on enhancing patient journeys, fostering a safe culture for our Indigenous patients, improving staff engagement, building on system integration, enhancing the Hospital and Research Institute’s research and academic role, and ensuring the Hospital and Health Research Institute’s financial viability.

“Our skilled and knowledgeable senior leaders provide strategic guidance to achieve the best possible experiences and outcomes for patients and families. They will be instrumental as Mr. Bartkowiak fulfills his goals for the next year,” said Matt Simeoni, Chair, Thunder Bay Regional Health Science Centre Board of Directors. “Under their combined leadership and expertise, we are completely confident that our Hospital and Health Research Institute will continue to improve the provision of safe, quality, specialized acute care, and health care discovery during and after the transition period.”

Mr. Bartkowiak’s tenure is demonstrative that the Hospital and Research Institute’s CEO recruitment process results in strong, effective leadership. The comprehensive recruitment strategy will ensure the most suitable successor to help guide our organizations into a new era of health care.

To ensure a seamless transition, the recruitment process for a new President & CEO will begin in the spring of 2020, with the goal to welcome Mr. Bartkowiak’s successor in January, 2021.

Up-and-coming Thunder Bay researcher earns Mitacs & NCR-IRAP Award for Outstanding Commercialization

An up-and-coming researcher at Lakehead University, with strong ties to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute, has been recognized for his innovative work to develop a cutting-edge medical imaging technology that delivers high-resolution pictures at a much lower dose of radiation, providing a breast-imaging alternative to mammography, positron emission tomography (PET) scan and other imaging devices.

The breakthrough work has earned Oleksandr Bubon the Mitacs & NCR-IRAP Award for Outstanding Commercialization, awarded by Mitacs, a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada for business and academia. The award was presented at a ceremony in Ottawa on November 26th, 2019.

Bubon — a postdoctoral fellow studying at Lakehead University under Dr. Alla Reznik, Canada Research Chair and Scientist at the Health Research Institute — is being recognized for developing a novel solid state imaging technology that exposes patients to 10 to 15 times less radiation than traditional PET scans. At the same time, the technology delivers highly sensitive, accurate images that can detect extremely small tumours in their earliest stages of cancer, particularly in women who have denser breast tissue than average.

“It is an honour to receive this award and have my research recognized in this way,” said Bubon, who serves as Medical Chief Technology Officer of Radialis Medical, a joint venture of Lakehead University and Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute co-founded by Bubon and Reznik in February 2016. “There is a huge need for this lower-dose, high-resolution imaging device and we’re only just beginning to see the incredible potential this technology has.”

The technology is currently being developed and tested by Radialis Medical. The latest prototype — a fully enclosed system on wheels — is in clinical trials at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto with validation results expected to be available before the end of the year. The company is now working to scale its manufacturing and quality control efforts, and expects to be firmly established as a medical device manufacturer ready to seek FDA and Health Canada approval by mid-2020, Bubon said.

The Mitacs & NCR-IRAP Award for Commercialization is presented to a Mitacs intern for an idea brought from research that is either on the market or soon to be commercialized. Bubon is one of eight Mitacs award winners nationally, chosen from thousands of researchers who take part in Mitacs programs each year. The remaining seven recipients were recognized for outstanding innovation or exceptional leadership in other areas of research.

“Innovation in Canada continues to be inspired by the groundbreaking work of up-and-coming researchers that touch all industry sectors and help to fuel the economy,” said Jennifer Wilkie, Mitacs interim CEO. “Their achievements are truly remarkable and Mitacs is honoured to support them, and broker important connections between industry, post-secondary institutions and government that make their leading-edge work possible.”

“We know that employers are looking for students and graduates with real-world experience so they can make an immediate impact in the workforce,” said Ross Romano, Minister of Colleges and Universities. “By working with Mitacs to support experiential learning and the innovative work of researchers like Oleksandr Bubon, we can help more people get the meaningful, hands-on learning opportunities they need to secure good jobs and support Ontario’s growing economy.”

For more information about the Mitacs awards and a full list of winners, visit www.mitacs.ca.

Lakehead University researcher, Health Research Institute scientist receiving more than $448k from the Canadian Cancer Society

Dr. Alla Reznik

A Lakehead University researcher and Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute scientist was awarded $448,800 from the Canadian Cancer Society to continue research into a new method of diagnosing breast cancer that may detect lesions earlier than current methods.

This Innovation to Impact grant will allow Dr. Alla Reznik to spend three years developing Positron Emission Mammography (PEM), molecular imaging equipment that may alleviate some uncertainty from breast cancer detection.

“Although X-ray mammography remains the gold standard of breast cancer screening, there is increasing awareness of a large cohort of women for whom anatomical X-ray imaging has reduced sensitivity,” said Dr. Reznik, a professor in Physics at Lakehead University and scientist at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute.

“This includes women with dense breasts and women with known intermediate and high risk factors for breast cancer,” said Dr. Reznik, who is also the Canada Research Chair in the Physics of Molecular Imaging.

The first clinical prototype of the PEM system is assembled, its imaging performance has been characterized in a laboratory setting, and it is now at the University Health Network-Princess Margaret Cancer Centre for awaiting clinical trials.

“This project will add advanced capabilities to the current PEM prototype, using data from our pilot studies as a guide,” Dr. Reznik added. “The next-generation device will have a better dynamic range to allow for a wide array of clinical tasks – ranging from low-dose screening to high-dose treatment follow-up – and will be tested in multiple clinical centres in Canada and the United States to prepare data to support wide-spread deployment.”

Dr. Andrew P. Dean, Lakehead’s Vice-President, Research and Innovation and Board Chair of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute, said Dr. Reznik’s innovative research could someday improve the health outcomes for women around the world.

“Thank you to the Canadian Cancer Society for awarding Dr. Reznik with this Innovation to Impact grant. Grants such as these are extremely important so that fundamental research can lead to better health outcomes for women,” he said.

“Dr. Reznik is a key contributor to our health research program that is vital to advancing our academic mission and even more importantly, to improving the health of the population,” said Jean Bartkowiak, President and CEO of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and CEO of the Health Research Institute. “Health research, like that of Dr. Reznik, provides patients with the opportunity to participate in research activity that helps design the care of the future and to access equipment at the frontier of health technology development.”

Dr. Judy Bray, Vice-President, Research at the Canadian Cancer Society, said Dr. Reznik’s research could be very beneficial to women’s health and wellbeing.

“With one in eight Canadian women expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, there is a need for more accurate and sensitive screening methods so that we can detect and treat the cancer earlier,” Dr. Bray said.

“That’s why we are proud to fund Dr. Reznik’s work in making breast mammography a more reliable screening tool for all women, including those with dense breasts and those at increased risk for breast cancer. We are grateful to our generous donors who enable us to support innovative researchers like Dr. Reznik and help create a world where no Canadian fears cancer.”

Research Day Returns to Showcase Health Research in Northwestern Ontario

Dr. Patrick McGrath

After a successful debut in 2018, a local event designed to showcase health research returned for another year.

The second annual Research Day took place October 4th at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (the Hospital) and provided attendees interested in health research with valuable information, skills-building and networking opportunities.

Research Day is a collaboration between the Hospital and its research arm, the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute.

Highlights of this event included a special keynote presentation from Dr. Patrick McGrath, (‘Translating Research to Patient Care’), a panel discussion (‘Using seed funding to leverage research for patient care’) presentations by researchers, poster displays, and workshops for attendees.

“We’re excited to shine the spotlight on the work of our researchers,” said Jean Bartkowiak, President and CEO of the Hospital and CEO of the Health Research Institute. “A robust health research program is vital to advancing our academic mission but more importantly, to improve the safety and quality of care and ultimately, the health of the population we serve. It provides patients with the opportunity to participate in research activity that helps design the care of the future.”

The theme for this year’s event was ‘Moving Research to Patient Care: From Bench to Bedside’.

“High quality health care is driven by high quality research,” said Dr. Valerie Grdisa, Executive Vice President, Research, Quality & Academics and Chief Nursing Executive at the Hospital. “Researchers at our Hospital and the Health Research Institute are undertaking a wide range of basic and applied health research with the aim of improving the lives of those living in Northwestern Ontario.”

The 2019 edition of Research Day focused on the importance of translating research into patient care and provides an opportunity for communicating the value of research to the patient and health sciences community.

Translational research applies findings from basic science to enhance human health and well-being. It aims to “translate” findings in fundamental research into medical practice and meaningful health outcomes. Translational research implements a “bench-to-bedside”, from laboratory experiments through clinical trials to point-of-care patient applications model, harnessing knowledge from basic sciences to produce new drugs, devices, and treatment options for patients. The end point of translational research is the production of a promising new treatment that can be used with practical applications that can then be used clinically or are able to be commercialized.

For a summary about this year’s Research Day, visit www.tbrhri.ca/researchday2019

Moving Research to Patient Care: From Bench to Bedside

Dr. Patrick McGrath

Health Research Institute and Hospital host 2nd Annual Research Day

After a successful debut in 2018, a local event designed to showcase health research returns for another year.

The second annual Research Day is taking place on Friday, October 4th, 2019 at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (the Hospital) and will offer valuable information, skills-building and networking opportunities for anyone interested in health research. Research Day is proudly presented by the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute, in collaboration with the Hospital.

Research Day will be open to all staff at the Hospital and Health Research Institute as well as physicians, health practitioners, staff of our partner organizations and to interested members of the public. The theme for this year’s event is ‘Moving Research to Patient Care: From Bench to Bedside’.

Highlights of this event will include a special keynote presentation from Dr. Patrick McGrath, a panel discussion, research presentations, interactive workshops, poster presentations, lunch and networking.

About Our Research Day Keynote Speaker

Dr. Patrick McGrath OC, PhD, FRSC, FCAHS, is a clinical psychologist, scientist, senior health administrator and social entrepreneur.  He currently is Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, at Dalhousie University and Scientist at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

His research focuses on two areas:  the use of technology to deliver care and pain in child health. Most of his research focuses on translating research into care. He develops interventions and conducts pragmatic randomized trials to evaluate the interventions.

He has published over 325 peer-reviewed papers, 50 book chapters and 14 books. His h-index is 94 and his work has been cited over 32 thousand times (Google Scholar). He has received numerous national and international awards and recognitions for his research, mentoring and advocacy including being appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada, being elected as fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.

Dr. McGrath was co-winner of the Principal Award of the Manning Foundation in 2013, and the Governor General’s Innovation award in 2017 for the Strongest Families e-health system (www.strongestfamilies.com). He is Chair of the Board of the not for profit, Strongest Families Institute which delivers mental health care to over 7000 families each year across Canada and employs 85+ people. His newest company is 60Seconds, a novel health information strategy.

He currently leads major grants in developing and evaluating apps for Family Doctors to prescribe to their patients (Health enSuite, CIHR Foundation Grant); a coached intervention for caregivers (Province of Nova Scotia, Major Grant) and a coached program for children with neurodevelopmental disorders and mental health problems (CIHR. Child Bright Network).  In his private practice, he sees children and adults for therapy.

He has served on dozens of university, health system and national committees and currently serves as a member of the Order of Canada Advisory Committee.

Dr. McGrath will be presenting ‘Translating Research to Patient Care’ on Research Day (8:45 a.m. – 9:45 a.m.) in Auditorium A & B (3rd Level at the Hospital).

For more information about Research Day, visit www.tbrhri.ca/researchday2019 or contact Lisa Niccoli at niccolil@tbh.net

Health Research Institute Board Member Profile: Dr. Penny Moody-Corbett

Dr. Penny Moody-Corbett

The Vision Statement for the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM), “Innovative education and research for a healthier north”, captures the passion and philosophy of those of us who work and learn at NOSM. As the Associate Dean, Research I have the pleasure of working with bright and innovative researchers. They tackle tough problems, using research approaches that do not always lend themselves to traditional western research methodologies. Researchers include bench scientists working on chronic and infectious diseases, biomedical scientists tackling difficult health and environmental questions, social scientists studying Indigenous health issues, the complexity of distributed medical education and social accountability and clinical scientists planning better and improved methods for treating patients in rural and remote settings.

While I have been at NOSM I have participated in research focused on a better understanding of recruitment and retention of health care providers in northern and underserviced areas. Together with partners from Northern Europe, NOSM participates in the “Recruit and Retain – Making it Work” project. NOSM’s unique approach to education has demonstrated the importance of training students “in the north for the north”. This and other approaches have provided a model for addressing health work force stability and are now being tested by each of the partners. At NOSM, our project involves collaborating with colleagues in Nunavut on health workforce recruitment and retention. The work contributes to a global effort working to improve health service delivery in rural, remote and underserviced populations through organizations such as Training for Health Equity Network, an international organization, of which NOSM was a founding member.

I have been a member of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute Board of Directors for the past four years as the NOSM representative. The Board provides a great opportunity to see first hand the research being done both at our Hospital and beyond and provides an opportunity to network with researchers, business personnel, entrepreneurs and health care providers. Research involves working with motivated and knowledgeable individuals and the Board provides an opportunity to hear directly from our research scientists, engage in inspiring conversation and plann with a diverse cross-section of colleagues all interested in improving health and health care delivery.

I think people would be surprised to know that our Hospital is an active research site and that the Health Research Institute Board is actively engaged in strategies to promote and advance best practices, based on research evidence and innovation conducted in Thunder Bay. Our research scientists are national and international stars in their fields and the research conducted at the Health Research Institute is known across the world.

I am a Physiologist, with a PhD from McGill University. I did post-doctoral research at Harvard and Tufts New England Medical Centre in Boston. I spent most of my research career as a Professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland, including eleven years as Associate Dean Research and Graduate Studies in the Faculty of Medicine. I worked as Director of Ethics and the Strategy for Patient Oriented Research at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) before taking the position of Associate Dean Research at NOSM.

Finding Innovative Ways to Use Radioactive Isotopes to Solve Common Problems

Dr. Michael Campbell, PhD

Vision for research

The goal of my research program is to find new and innovative ways to use radioactive isotopes to solve common problems.  My research lab applies chemistry techniques used for the synthesis of drugs, polymers or other common materials to find ways of working with these radioactive materials to answer specific questions.

Some of the questions we are looking at include:

  • Is there a better way to attach this radioactive atom to a radiopharmaceutical?
  • What precious metals are in this ore sample?
  • Are there better ways to produce and distribute medical isotopes?

First, a bit about what radioisotopes are.  Most of us will remember seeing the little cartoons of an atom where you have the electrons around the outside and the nucleus in the middle. If we zoom in to the nucleus you will find positively charged particles called protons.  The number of protons is what determines if the atom is hydrogen, carbon or some other element.  We will also see particle that don’t have any charge called neutron.  In most atoms if the number of protons and neutrons are balanced within a certain range the atom is stable and most likely has been around for billions of years and most likely will be around for another billion or so.  Where it gets interesting is when the number of neutrons gets out of balance, this makes the nucleus unstable and is radioactive.  To get to a stable state the atom releases some energy, this energy is what we detect when we use radioisotopes to diagnose or treat diseases.

Where do the radioisotopes come from? 

There are many sources of radioisotopes.  Many radioisotopes are naturally occurring, if you pick up a piece of granite chances are there are at least some radioactive atoms present.  Radioisotopes can also be created. In Thunder Bay, we are fortunate to have a cyclotron that can give us access to a variety of isotopes and facilities for working with these materials.

How do you use radioisotopes help detect diseases and what are the challenges?

The main isotope that the cyclotron produces for the detection of cancer is a radioactive version of fluoride called F-18.  If only F-18 was given to a patient it wouldn’t have any way of guiding it to the tumour, it needs to be attached to a drug that is able to seek out the tumour.  This is where we come in.  Chemists have developed many processes for connecting atoms to molecules but with Radiolabeling compounds one of the big (or very small in this case) problems is one of scale.  A very small amount of radioactive material goes a long way.  If we use the example of F-18 from our cyclotron as an example, the amount of F-18 that is in an actual dose is less than 1 nano gram.  To put that in perspective if you take a single grain of salt, that is 10,000 times larger than the amount of F-18 in a single dose used to detect cancer.

When working on this scale it is impossible to weigh out materials at that small a scale and as a result, the amount of other reagents the F-18 has to react with are in huge excess.  What this means is that after the reaction is done, there is a lot of other stuff that needs to be removed in order to get a pure product.  This is where the next problem comes up, the material is radioactive after all so that means that the normal methods of handling and purifying compounds become more difficult and can’t be handled directly.  The final challenge is time, as F-18 only has a half life of 110 minutes.  That means approximately every 2 hours you have half as much material remaining so we need to work fast.

The work we are doing hopes to address these problems. We are taking the molecules that the F-18 reacts with and attaching them to a tether and then attaching the other end of the tether to a small plastic bead.  We have set up the attachment of the molecule to the tether in such a way that when it reacts with F-18 the tether is cut and the radioactive molecule is now in solution.  What this lets us do is to remove any excess molecules by sampling filtering off the plastic beads.  This may not work for every molecule but it will hopefully allow us to prepare and purify molecules that we otherwise difficult to make.


The research in my lab would not be possible with out the generous support of the following group:

Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute

The National Science and Engineering Research Council

Acsion Industries in Pinawa, Manitoba

GoldCorp Musselwhite

Lakehead University