Two steps forward for cancer detection

An Australian invention is making it cheaper, quicker and safer to manufacture the radioactive tracers used in latest medical imaging techniques to track down increasingly smaller clusters of cancer cells.

Two steps forward for cancer detection
The two-step dual reactor, FlexLAB. Credit: iPHASE Technologies

Like preparing a cake in a mixing bowl, the chemical reactions to make the tracers involve putting the ingredients together in the right proportions. The next generation of tracers can have a more complex recipe—and so can be more difficult to produce using just one ‘mixing bowl’ at a time.

So, researchers at the Cooperative Research Centre for Biomedical Imaging Development (CRCBID) developed FlexLab, an apparatus that takes two reactions previously conducted separately and joins them in a dual-step reactor.

CRCBID CEO Gerry Roe says once the need was identified for the new apparatus, it quickly grew into the prototype, which has been used by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) since early in 2011. Now, FlexLab is available as a commercial product marketed by Cyclotek Australia Pty Ltd and manufactured by iPHASE Technologies in Melbourne.

Tracers are often made on-site, Gerry says, so there is a potential market for FlexLab in hospitals and radio-medicine facilities around the globe. FlexLab can be used to make a wide range of radioactive tracers being developed for Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging. As they move through the body, the tracers release gamma rays that, when detected, produce vivid, detailed three-dimensional images that can be used to locate many different cancers.

Photo: The two-step dual reactor, FlexLAB.
Credit: iPHASE Technologies

CRC for Biomedical Imaging Development, Gerry Roe,,