The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) 2012 Annual Meeting wrapped up at the Vancouver Convention Centre on Monday. This scientific conference – the biggest of its kind – was a great opportunity for local researchers to shine, and two of our department’s Principal Investigators were among the Vancouver-based scientists invited to speak at the meeting.
Dr. François Bénard and his collaborators at UBC’s TRIUMF laboratory presented their most recent progress in the field of medical isotope production. Most medical imaging tests around the world use a radioactive isotope called technetium-99 to detect patients’ tumours and other disorders, but technetium-99 is currently in short supply as there are only five nuclear reactors in the world that can make it, including the Chalk River reactor in Ontario that was recently out of action for more than a year. Dr. Bénard’s team, however, has now developed an alternative production method that uses cyclotrons rather than nuclear reactors. Cyclotrons are much more numerous (and cheaper to build and maintain) than nuclear reactors, and existing facilities can be easily adapted to produce their own technetium-99. This is a major technological breakthrough that will dramatically reduce the risk of medical isotope shortages in the future.
Dr. Sam Aparicio also addressed the AAAS meeting, at a symposium titled “Genomics and Cancer: A Global Challenge Needing Global Solutions”. He stressed the need to treat tumours based on which genetic defects they contain, rather than the part of the body from which they originate – some skin cancers contain the same defect as a subset of colorectal tumours, for example, and these seemingly very different types of cancer could in the future be studied and treated as a group. Dr. Aparicio also recommended that researchers focus on developing personalised “cocktails” of drugs for each patient; as with the anti-HIV drug cocktails that have had such a great impact on that disease’s mortality rates, using combinations of cancer drugs that together target several different defects could help prevent the current problem of cancer developing resistance to individual drugs. This presentation was covered by the Vancouver Sun and other media outlets.
Meeting over, everyone is back in the building and working away on the next steps… watch this space!