New radiochemistry unit launched at St Thomas' Hospital

Tuesday 15 June 2021

PET scanner launch

A state-of-the-art facility which produces tracers to help identify cancers and other complex conditions has been launched in a partnership with Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London.

The £41million Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Centre was first established in 1992 and has been rebuilt over the past eight years. It has three scanners in a suite at St Thomas’ Hospital and a scanner at the Cancer Centre at Guy’s.

The Centre is the only NHS facility of its kind in England to have a licence granted by the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to produce the tracers from radioactive isotopes for clinical use.

The facility includes a new cyclotron (which is a particle accelerator that produces radioactive isotopes) and a radiochemistry laboratory, where the isotopes are chemically attached to pharmaceuticals to produce the radioactive tracers needed for PET scans.

These radioactive tracers have a very short shelf life and so manufacturing them in-house enables the PET Centre to maximise the use of the specialist scanners and highly trained staff.

Together with the scanners, this means patients across south-east London can get fast and accurate diagnosis and follow-up resulting in the best possible treatment.

The MHRA licence was made possible by head of the PET Centre Professor Alex Hammers and the centre team. The licence permits the PET centre to produce its own radioactive tracers. The most commonly used one, FDG, can be detected on a scan because of the radioactive isotope that has been attached to it.

This is injected into a patient’s vein and it travels around the body, going to the places where energy is needed. It is used by doctors to identify tumours, as they usually use more energy than the surrounding tissue.

FDG can also be used to examine the function of the brain, since it also uses a lot of energy. The chemical can help diagnose memory problems and the source of epileptic seizures.

Staff at the PET centre also undertake important research into the development and evaluation of new tracers, co-ordination of national cancer trials using PET-Computed Tomography (CT) imaging and new PET technology and data analysis methods. Over time, the centre plans to start production of a range of tracers for different clinical applications.

Professor Ian Abbs, chief executive of Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “Improving the quality of patient care is at the heart of everything we do at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and we have made significant investment in our imaging services in recent years to enhance both clinical service delivery and research, working closely with King’s College London. 

“This has included investment in our PET Centre, as PET scans are key to diagnosis and treatment for patients with a number of conditions, including some cancers.   “I am delighted that the new cyclotron and radiochemistry laboratory have now been licenced by the MHRA as this will ensure we are able to produce the most modern radiotracers, to the highest standard, onsite next to our scanning suite for the benefit of our patients now and in the future.”

Professor Sebastien Ourselin, head of King’s College London’s School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences, said: “This is a critical milestone for our PET Centre. This achievement will further propel our innovative pipeline of new compounds, enabling us to provide the best care to our patients. I would like to congratulate the entire team for this exciting development.”

Last updated: March 2022

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