CERN is better known as the birthplace of the World Wide Web than for the role it plays in researching new cancer treatments, but that is exactly what the new MEDICIS facility will do.

Radioactive isotopes are widely used in precision medicine to diagnose and treat cancer. However, many isotopes currently used do not target tumors closely enough and, in some cases, a different type of radiation could be better suited. As of next year, a new facility called CERN-MEDICIS (Medical Isotopes Collected from ISOLDE) will steadily produce a huge range of innovative isotopes meeting the requirements of the medical research community. These radioisotopes are destined primarily for hospitals and research centers in Switzerland and across Europe.

MEDICIS uses radioactive isotopes produced at ISOLDE, CERN’s nuclear physics facility. ISOLDE has been running for 50 years, and 1,300 isotopes from 73 chemicals have been produced at CERN for research in many areas, including fundamental nuclear research, astrophysics and life sciences. Although ISOLDE already produces isotopes for medical research, the new MEDICIS facility will allow it to provide radioisotopes with the right properties to enhance precision for both imaging and treatment.

“The real advantage for MEDICIS is that you can speak to a medical doctor, and ask them what they would like from an isotope, a shorter physical half-life let’s say, so it stays in the subject for less time, and then we can produce them all: isotopes that emit positrons and gamma rays for imaging, isotopes that emit beta electrons or alpha particles that can be used for attacking cancer itself, anything,” explains Karl Johnston, physics coordinator at ISOLDE.


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