A new particle accelerator will further enhance the research landscape at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). It is to be employed to conduct research into potential applications of medical relevance. The new cyclotron has been installed in a basement structure of the Institute of Nuclear Chemistry on the Gutenberg Campus. It will be used to generate short half-life isotopes, which will be principally used for fundamental research but are also required for the medical imaging technique known as positron emission tomography (PET). The cost of this large-scale research device amounts to about EUR 1 million provided by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Rhineland-Palatinate Research Initiative. Commissioning of the new cyclotron is planned for spring 2016.
The cyclotron is a ring-shaped particle accelerator that occupies a floor space of some 7.5 square meters and has a height of two meters. It weighs about 50 tons and a crane had to be used to lower it through a hole in the ceiling into the designated basement room. In addition to the cyclotron room, the new structure has a technical and control center together with an access lock. The structure is linked directly to the Institute of Nuclear Chemistry extension building and has all safety-relevant features.
As it will be able to accelerate protons to an energy of 9.7 mega-electron volts (MeV), the cyclotron at Mainz University can be used to generate the two radioactive elements fluorine-18 and carbon-11. These will be mainly employed for chemical and pharmaceutical research purposes but are also necessary for the PET medical diagnostic imaging technique. F-18 and C-11 have short half-lives of just 110 and 20 minutes respectively. It is thus necessary to generate them near the location at which they are to be used to ensure that they are available in sufficient quantities. It has not previously been possible in Mainz to create radiopharmaceuticals labeled with C-11 because of its particularly short half-life. The new accelerator has now made this feasible.
"The cyclotron will enhance our currently existing infrastructure and eliminate a bottleneck in the production of radioactive nuclides," explained Professor Frank Rösch of the JGU Institute of Nuclear Chemistry. "It will significantly facilitate the development of new radiopharmaceuticals and their preclinical evaluation while - working in collaboration with the Department of Nuclear Medicine at the Mainz University Medical Center - we will be able to markedly expedite their future application in patient diagnosis." There are additional benefits to be expected through interdisciplinary joint projects in which the areas of nuclear chemistry, pharmaceutical sciences, organic chemistry, and nuclear medicine at JGU will collaborate with regard to the development and evaluation of new PET radiopharmaceuticals, in some cases also with external institutions such as the Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics at RWTH Aachen and the Mainz-based Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research.