CERN’s MEDICIS facility contributes to medical research by producing novel radioisotopes, elements with too many or too few neutrons to be stable. These radioisotopes not only help diagnose cancers and other diseases, but can also deliver precise radiation doses to treat diseased cells without destroying the surrounding healthy tissue.
Initiated in 2010, MEDICIS produced its first radioisotopes on 12 December 2017. It is driven by CERN’s ISOLDE facility, which directs a high-intensity proton beam from the Proton Synchrotron Booster onto specially developed thick targets. MEDICIS works by placing a second target behind ISOLDE’s to produce radioisotopes, which are then extracted via mass separation, implanted in a small foil and delivered to research facilities and local university hospitals. Researchers dissolve the required radioisotope and attach it to a molecule, such as a protein or sugar, which can target the desired tissues precisely. This makes the radioisotope injectable, and the molecule can adhere to the tumour or organ that needs imaging or treating.
MEDICIS has also entered CERN into the growing field of theranostics, which uses radioisotopes for combined diagnosis and therapy of diseased cells in a patient; this has catalysed a network of the leading institutes supplying these non-conventional isotopes for research in life and medical sciences within the project PRISMAP - the European medical isotope programme, supported by the European Commission.