The Power of Positron Thinking
You can get a peek inside the body with something called positron emission tomography (PET), which creates 3D images of the body by injecting radioactive isotopes, called radiopharmaceuticals, into the people being examined. These radiopharmaceuticals produce positrons that can be used to map out parts of the body, so that we can spot tumours, for example, or track the brain’s biochemistry as it copes with such conditions as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Until now, though, it has been very hard to make these radiopharmaceuticals. And the most useful radioactive isotope, fluorine-18, is one of the hardest to make of all. However, Dr. Ralf Schirrmacher, Canada Research Chair in Synthesis of Novel Radiopharmaceuticals for Positron Emission Tomography in Neurology and Oncology, has found a new procedure, based on the chemical bond between silicon and fluorine-18, that makes it easier to use fluorine-18 to get images of tumours. And if fluorine-18 is easier to use, then so is PET, which means that this imaging system could be available to more people, helping them treat or avoid serious illnesses.