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Blog

Turkey invests in medical isotopes

The new Proton Accelerator Facility in Ankara


The new Proton Accelerator Facility in Ankara (Credit: Michael Banks)

By Michael Banks in Ankara, Turkey

A helipad is not what you would normally expect to see at a brand new research facility. But that is what sits next to the new Proton Accelerator Facility (PAF) based in Ankara, Turkey.

However, the helipad is not for A-list scientists or celebrities visiting the PAF, but instead to transport medical isotopes, which in some cases have a half-life lasting just a few hours, from the PAF to hospitals around the country.

Construction of the PAF has just been completed at the Saraykoy Nuclear Research and Training Center (SANAEM), which is operated by the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority (TAEK).

Earlier today I was granted an exclusive tour of the PAF (and no, sadly, I didn’t arrive by helicopter) by Ali Tanrikut, acting director of SANAEM.

The €20m PAF will produce a range of medical isotopes such as fluorine-18 and thallium-201 by accelerating protons in a 2 m diameter cyclotron to energies around 15–30 MeV and then smashing them into a variety of targets.

Turkey already has eight smaller cyclotrons that produce medical isotopes. However, they are all based at hospitals and mostly make fluorine-18, which is used in positron emission tomography to produce a 3D image of processes in the body.

Until now, other isotopes such as palladium-103, which is used to treat prostate cancer, have had to be imported from other countries and the PAF will aim to end Turkey’s dependence on this. Indeed, radioisotope production is an expensive business, with 1 g of some radioisotopes costing thousands of pounds.

Another important role for the facility is to help to train students and researchers so they can start building their own beamlines at the facility. “Education and training cannot be done without infrastructure,” says Tanrikut. “We need to train young people so they learn how to play with these protons.”

The cyclotron at the Proton Accelerator Facility


The cyclotron at Turkey’s Proton Accelerator Facility (Credit: Michael Banks)

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