NMT students given rare, personal tour of cyclotron

NMT Cyclotron 2013.09webNMT Class of 2014The Nuclear Medicine Technology class of 2014 was recently given a rare, personal tour of the University of Alabama at BirminghamComprehensive Cancer Center’s newly installed cyclotron.

“There are not that many people that will ever see the cyclotron because once the door is shut it will not open again unless it needs maintenance,” said Breona Thurman, senior NMT student, (pictured right, bottom row, 2nd from right). “I feel very fortunate.”

A cyclotron is a particle accelerator that moves protons along a spiral path to strike a specific target. UAB's cyclotron will be used to make medical imaging agents for clinical and research applications. This cyclotron, a TR24 model, is a one-of-a-kind hybrid exclusively designed for UAB. It weighs more than 61,000 pounds and is the most powerful cyclotron at any U.S. academic medical center. It is located in the newly renovated and state-of-the-art Lurleen B. Wallace Tumor Institute.

“To see a setting that has everything is pretty overwhelming because you usually do not see that at any clinic site,” said Justin Church, a senior NMT student (pictured right, standing far left). “You may see a renovated facility with slightly older models of equipment or you may see newer models and an older facility but rarely do you see the complete package.”

“The thing that struck me the most was the door to enter the cyclotron area which they told us weighs 30,000 pounds,” said Thurman. “Not only the size of the door but the fact that you need something that big to contain the power of the cyclotron.”

The facility houses the most innovative, cutting-edge PET (Positron Emission Tomography) imaging equipment. It currently houses two PET/CT scanners.

“The PET/CT machine allows you to superimpose physiology and anatomy images so if there is an area of concentration on the PET side that shows a problem, then you can look at the CT side, the anatomy, to see if there have been any structural changes,” said Church. “Physiology usually predates the structure change in cancer patients so it is a tremendous advantage to see both images superimposed.”

There are plans to add at least two more PET/CT scanners and a PET/MR system. The facility, called the UAB Advanced Imaging Facility, is the only one of its kind in Alabama and the area. It will provide UAB NMT students a unique learning experience.

“Since the cyclotron produces Positron radioisotopes, our students will be able to be involved in many research protocols that involve patients receiving these either for diagnostic or therapeutic cancer imaging and therapy,” said Norman Bolus, MPH, CNMT, assistant professor in the Department of Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences and NMT program director. “Our students rotate through the PET/CT area and will be able to experience first-hand the marvelous contributions this facility will allow going forward.”