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Establishing Ionizing Radiation Facilities in the Philippines and Beyond

Puja Daya

The synchrotron at Suranaree University of Technology, Thailand is applied in agriculture, medicine, pharmacy and industry. (Photo: Synchrotron Light Research Institute)

Cancer is the Philippines’ second biggest killer, according to the 2020 Global Cancer Observatory, as the country suffers almost 100 000 cancer related deaths per year. Paramount to reducing this toll is early tumour detection, but with medical imaging scans costing, on average, close to US $2000, many Filipino people cannot even afford one.

“A major problem faced in the Philippines is the lack of resources to develop and maintain cancer detection. This is causing many cancer patients to be undiagnosed and untreated,” said Carlos Arcilla, Director of the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute. Arcilla and his team hope to address this capacity shortage by establishing a new cyclotron — a type of ionizing radiation facility — in Manila, in order to produce radiopharmaceuticals critical for diagnosing and treating cancer, as well as brain and cardiovascular diseases.

Those involved in the development of ionizing radiation facilities can benefit from having guidance that will enable them to undertake the project in a well organized manner, enabling successful progress in its implementation, and full utilization after the facility begins operation and the provision of services.
Nuno Pessoa Barradas, Research Reactor Specialist, IAEA

Currently, the Philippines only has four cyclotrons, but they are privately owned, and the country’s limited positron emission tomography–computed tomography (PET–CT) scanning facilities mean that just five per cent of cancer patients can receive cancer diagnoses. Cyclotrons are accelerators that produce radiopharmaceuticals, which are given to patients before receiving a PET–CT scan — a medical scan that creates high-quality 3D images, usually of organs and tissues, to help detect diseases and visualize tumours. With a new cyclotron, the Philippines can produce more radiopharmaceuticals domestically for improved access to PET–CT scanning.

Hosting a publicly owned cyclotron and PET–CT scanner, the new Nuclear Medicine Research and Innovation Center will enable, approximately, an additional 5000 patients per year to have access to accurate cancer staging.

“We aim to produce radiopharmaceuticals for both the Center and the neighbouring Philippine General Hospital in Diliman, allowing us to serve more patients and act as a tool for cancer research,” said Arcilla. He said that the Center will also be a training hub in the region, so both the Philippines and neighbouring countries can become self-reliant in the production and use of radiopharmaceuticals.

The centre exemplifies the beneficial value of radiation science and technologies — benefits that the IAEA seeks to further develop internationally. Next week, from 22 to 26 August, the IAEA will hold the Second International Conference on Applications of Radiation Science and Technology (ICARST). This in-person and virtual conference will explore key developments in the applications of radiation science and technology and review different initiatives for implementing proven industrial applications that lead to socio-economic benefits. Gathering over 500 participants, ICARST will serve as a platform through which industry and academia can foster new initiatives for ensuring the success of radiation technologies in meeting emerging challenges. If you’re interested in attending virtually, you can still do so by registering.

The benefits of new ionizing radiation facilities

Radioisotopes and particle beams produced at ionization radiation facilities, such as cyclotrons, synchrotrons and other types of accelerators, are applied in medicine and health care, water security, food and agriculture, research, energy production, industrial and consumer products, forensic investigations, in the preservation of cultural heritage.

Establishing more accelerator-based facilities around the world will lead to better and cheaper access to such benefits. Thus, alongside the Philippines, new facilities are being established in Argentina, Malaysia and Thailand — all with IAEA support.

Globally, demand for such ionizing radiation facilities is growing, and to better help countries meet it, the IAEA plans to release its Guidance for the Establishment of Ionizing Radiation Facilities this year. “Those involved in the development of ionizing radiation facilities can benefit from having guidance that will enable them to undertake the project in a well organized manner, enabling successful progress in its implementation, and full utilization after the facility begins operation and the provision of services. The publication will do just this by consolidating expert advice on establishing new facilities and improving existing ones,” said Nuno Pessoa Barradas, the research reactor specialist at the IAEA responsible for the publication.

Ionizing radiation facilities can contain different types of equipment for the purpose of ionization. In Thailand, the Synchrotron Light Research Institute is planning to build a second synchrotron. The country’s first (see image) has been running for 20 years and has helped Thai experts to sustainably use ionizing radiation to preserve cultural heritage artefacts (see page 8), lead forensic investigations (see page 16), and contribute to research and development.

“The current machine has made a significant impact in the country,” said Supargorn Rugmai, Assistant Director for Academic Affairs and Head of the Research Facility Division at the Synchrotron Light Research Institute. “At the start, there was a lack of knowledge, but after setting up training programmes within the region, we are becoming experts. With the new facility, we will be able to make a greater social impact and apply the technology more widely.”

Synchrotron light sources help to build and advance industrial, medical and basic research. The new synchrotron in Thailand will possess 2.5 times more energy than the old synchrotron. It will be used to advance scientific research and will improve the country’s economy through the utilization of its high intensity X-rays in industrial product improvement and innovation.

Experts in Argentina and Malaysia are also developing new electron beam accelerator facilities. These will enable a larger production of radioisotopes for medical diagnoses and therapy, as well as advancing research and technology within the countries.

Through its technical cooperation programme, the IAEA is sending experts to Argentina, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and other countries to help safely establish and maintain ionizing radiation facilities by training local experts so that they can independently run and maintain these facilities. In addition to this support, the IAEA publishes safety standards, provides virtual sessions and hosts an e-learning platform as well as the Accelerator Knowledge Portal — a site for and by the accelerator community that provides training materials, information on accelerators around the world, and much more.


May, 2022
Vol. 63-2

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