India marshals nuclear technologies for beating cancer

Understanding that the burden of cancer is increasing on developing countries, including India, the country is marshalling nuclear technologies to counter the disease inflicting millions. In a big step in this direction, India’s largest medical cyclotron used to produce radioisotopes for diagnostic and therapeutic use for cancer care became operational in September 2018.

Dr. Sekhar Basu, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission and Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India made this announcement at the 62nd General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in Vienna, Austria.

“I would also like to inform that Cyclone-30, a medical cyclotron, the largest in India, delivered 30 MeV beam for the first time this month. This cyclotron is capable of meeting radioisotope needs for entire Eastern India and will also meet the requirements of Paladium 103 and Germanium 68 for the entire country,” Dr. Basu said. The facility will also have dedicated beam lines for research in material science and nuclear physics. Paladium 103 is used in the treatment of prostate cancer and Germanium 68 is used in the diagnosis of Breast cancer respectively.

The cancer mortality rate in India is alarmingly high with about 2.5 million people living with this disease and over 700,000 new patients being diagnosed to be suffering from cancer. In fact, cancer is the second most common disease in India responsible for maximum mortality. India accounts for the third highest number of cancer cases among women after China and the US, growing annually at 4.5-5 per cent. According to a report ‘Call for Action: Expanding cancer care for women in India, 2017’, cancer among women in India is estimated at 0.7 million. However, the real incidence is much more between 1 and 1.4 million per year as many case go undiagnosed or unreported. One woman dies of cervical cancer every 8 minutes in India. And, for every 2 women diagnosed with breast cancer, one woman dies of it in India

Cyclone-30 became operational this year when 30 MeV beam reached the Faraday Cup for the first time in the last week at the Variable energy Cycotron Centre (VECC), Kolkata. This was informed by the Department of Atomic energy (DAE) in a press release. “Subsequently, beam from this facility was used to produce 18F (Fluorine-18 isotope) for the preparation of [18 FlFluorodeoxyglucose (FDG), a radio-pharmaceutical used by Board of Radiation & Isotope Technology (BRIT),” the DAE press release added.

The facility will start regular production by the middle of the next year after the commissioning of the supporting nuclear systems and regulatory clearances. Cyclone-30 facility at VECC, Kolkata will have many unique features, under various stages of implementation, which are first of its kind in many ways. After the commissioning of liquid target (for FDG production) and solid targets (production of Germanium-68, Palladium-103 and other isotopes), work on studies related to installation of Iodine isotope [1-123] production target, material study target and Accelerator Driven System target will also be taken up, the release added.

Dr Basu also informed the international conference that the development of cost effective drug for cancer care remains a priority for the government. Twenty one radiopharmaceuticals for diagnosis and therapy; and two radionuclide generators have been developed in the recent past. “Nuclear waste has always been considered as a resource in India. Clinical grade Yttrium 90 in 90Y Acetate form has been extracted from high level waste and was introduced for patient care,” Dr. Basu added.

The government is also working towards doing capacity building for other developing countries. Tata Memorial Centre (TMC) has trained over 150 personnel from Africa and Asia in the field of cancer care following the International Atomic energy Agency (IAEA) rules.