Monday, 6 August 2012


Experts have been providing a preview of the equipment, and the newly-created unit, which will help north east scientists fight cancer thanks to the biggest donation to date from the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.

Newcastle University and the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation have purchased an Advanced Technology Biomarker Generator, an ultra-compact cyclotron, the first ever in Europe and only the second in the world of its type. It will help with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and others serious diseases and is housed in what is now called the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation PET Tracer Production Unit.

The Biomarker Generator works by creating radioactive tracers which are given to patients who subsequently undergo scans to provide information on cancer and other diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The information collected helps doctors to understand the location of the disease in each patient, how serious it is, and the underlying processes and pathways that are causing the illness.

Professor Herbie Newell, Professor of Cancer Therapeutics at Newcastle University, explains: “This is a fantastic step forward for cancer research and cancer patients.

“What we’ll be able to do thanks to fantastic support from the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation is bring in a whole new screening technology which will help us find out where cancers are in patients, how many there are and what they are.  And, importantly, when we are trying a new treatment, whether or not these new treatments are working.

“We’re all used to x-ray and CT scans where you get pictures which show where things are inside the body – such as cancers.

“In CT and x-rays, the radiation comes from outside the patient, shines through the patient, and we take pictures of what comes out the other side.

“In the case of PET scanning, and this new PET tracer production unit, we are making the radioactivity and attaching it to something which we inject into the patient so the radiation comes from the inside out.

“The first tracer we’ll be making is one where we’ve attached the radioactivity to a sugar.  And that sugar is taken up into the cancer because, like any other cells, cancer cells need energy to grow, but because they’re growing so rapidly they take up more and that allows us to pinpoint where exactly the cancers are by putting the patient inside a camera after we’ve given them the radioactive material.”

Sir Bobby and Lady Elsie launched the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation in 2008 and it has gone on to raise over £4 million to help find more effective treatments for cancer.

It funds projects within the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust that directly benefit cancer patients from across the north east and Cumbria, and which contribute significantly to international research into the disease.

The Foundation’s medical trustees are always looking for the next breakthrough, the next promising investment into cancer equipment or training and always looking to fulfil Sir Bobby’s ambition to help other people facing the hard fight against cancer.  It was originally launched to raise £500,000 required to equip a cancer trials research centre at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care.

Professor Newell adds: “Thanks to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation we already have a really world class cancer trials unit at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care. 

“What we’ll be able to do with this new facility is offer patients who are taking part in early phase trials at the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre this new test to tell us, and them, much quicker whether the drugs are working in the way we intended.

“This new generation of biomarker generators is absolutely cutting edge.  And it’s great to have this here and to offer this facility to patients.  We’re all very grateful to everyone who has helped make this possible by supporting the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.”

The Biomarker Generator will be officially opened later this year by Lady Elsie.

How the Biomarker Generator works:

The biomarker generator produces a radioisotope – a radioactive marker which can be attached to an imaging agent. The imaging agent is administered to a patient by injection then they are put into a PET scanner so that clinician gets an image which allows them to see where the cancer is in the patient and how large it is, if drug treatments are reaching the cancer and hitting their targets, and whether the cancer is responding to the treatment.

The specially-created Sir Bobby Robson Foundation PET Tracer Production Unit consists of 4 rooms:
*Biomarker generator – in an accelerator the protons spin round, which then impact the target, producing a radioactive marker for attachment to the imaging agent.

The generator is surrounded by a thick coat of boronated concrete which soaks up any neutrons.
The radioisotope produced is pushed through a tube by the flow of argon to the clean room.

*Clean room – a completely sterile room where the isotope is attached to the imaging agent being tested. The isotope enters equipment through the tube by flow of argon into the chemistry system. Here, the radioisotope is attached to the imaging agent.

*Hot lab – room where product is tested to check it is up to medical standards –known as British pharmacopeia.

*Collation room – a clean room where scientists confirm that the imaging agent is suitable for administration to patients and it is put into a special lead box ready for transportation to the hospital.

The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation PET Tracer Production Unit is a joint project between Newcastle University and the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.  The Foundation has made a record contribution of £625,000 to ensure its purchase.

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