Home » Industry & Business » Canada's Nuclear Future » McMaster University is Saving Lives with Medical Isotopes
Canada's Nuclear Future

McMaster University is Saving Lives with Medical Isotopes

Sponsored by:
Sponsored by:

Dave Tucker

Chief Nuclear Officer & Associate Vice-President, Nuclear, McMaster University

Karin Stephenson

Director of Nuclear Research & Education, McMaster University

Federal and provincial investments boost McMaster’s medical isotope research and production to benefit more Canadians.

Medical isotopes are advancing health care in Canada and around the world – and McMaster University is paving the way for the next-generation of medical isotope research and innovation.  

Used to diagnose and treat over 1.5 million Canadians every year for a range of health conditions – from heart disease to cancer – medical isotopes hold great promise for patients at home and abroad.


“Medical isotopes are undergoing tremendous growth as researchers discover new ways of harnessing their potential to image, track, and treat cancer and other diseases,” says Dave Tucker, Chief Nuclear Officer and Associate Vice-President, Nuclear at McMaster University.

McMaster’s global leadership

Based in Hamilton, ON, McMaster has been a global leader in nuclear medicine for some 65 years. The McMaster Nuclear Reactor – Canada’s largest research reactor – provides neutrons for medical isotope production and scientific research and anchors the university’s suite of world-class nuclear facilities.

It’s that infrastructure – unique in the world – combined with the university’s leading nuclear experts that have positioned McMaster as a leader in the country’s efforts to meet its medical isotope needs, says Tucker, adding that some of the world’s earliest nuclear medicine work was done at the university.

McMaster – already the world’s leading supplier of medical isotope iodine-125, which provides treatment for over 70,000 cancer patients every year – has an ambitious $25 million plan to increase the quantity and diversity of isotopes produced at its reactor.

And now, thanks to new federal and provincial investments, the university will be able to expand its research and production scope even further.

The powerful impact of investment

McMaster recently received $6.8 million from the federal government as part of a $35 million national initiative to create a Canadian Medical Isotope Ecosystem (CMIE) — a pan-Canadian network for medical isotope research and innovation.

And the Ontario government invested an additional $6.8 million in the McMaster Nuclear Reactor to increase its operational capacity and medical isotope production.

These investments, says Karin Stephenson, Director of Nuclear Research and Education at McMaster University, are game-changing for the university’s isotope research and production enterprise and, more importantly, potentially life-saving for the patients who stand to gain from early diagnoses and treatments.

This collective support means our capacity to produce isotopes will increase by 300 per cent.

“This collective support means our capacity to produce isotopes will increase by 300 per cent,” says Stephenson. “Not only does it put us at the forefront of innovation in this important field, but it ensures our increased capacity is translated to better health outcomes for thousands of patients.”

McMaster and its CMIE partners will create pathways for Canadian scientists to advance new medical isotope technologies from the research laboratory to preclinical testing to routine use in hospitals, creating a robust supply of next-generation medical isotopes for use in Canada and for export to the global marketplace.

“One thing that makes McMaster so unique is our translational capabilities,” says Stephenson.“We’re able to take a product from the reactor core, process it, make a radiopharmaceutical, and deliver it directly to hospitals. This helps ensure Ontarians and Canadians have reliable access to advanced therapies.”

Improving health care    

The university is currently collaborating with radiopharmaceutical leaders Terumo and AtomVie Global Radiopharma Inc. to produce and deliver two medical devices for the treatment of liver cancer, and with industry and healthcare leaders to explore the potential of using drones to transport time-sensitive cancer treatments to hospitals for on-site patient diagnosis and treatment.

With global demand for medical isotopes on the rise, Tucker says more people will now have access to more effective treatments made at McMaster.

“Simply put,” he says, “these investments will save lives.”

Visit nuclear.mcmaster.ca to learn more.

Next article