THE PET Tracer Production Unit at Newcastle University, only the second in the world, has been declared open by Lady Elsie Robson.
The cutting-edge facility will make a significant difference to people fighting cancer in the north east and Cumbria as well as international efforts to find more effective treatments for the disease.
The unit, and the new equipment it houses, an Advanced Biomarker Technology ultra-compact cyclotron, was jointly funded by the University and the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and is the first of its type in Europe.
It will help with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other serious diseases and its purchase was only possible thanks to a contribution of £625,000, the largest to date, from the cancer charity Sir Bobby and Lady Elsie launched in 2008.
Lady Elsie said: “I’m so pleased to see this new unit open and we’re all very proud that the University chose to name it after the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.
“We’ve been discussing this new equipment for such a long time and because it’s so special it’s taken a great deal of effort to purchase and install it.
“To see all those discussions finally become a reality is just wonderful. I’m very grateful to the Foundation’s medical trustees and Newcastle University for their hard work in making this possible.
“I’d particularly like to thank the many thousands of people who support the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation through fund-raising events and by giving donations large and small. Their great kindness and generosity is the only reason we have been able to buy the Biomarker Generator.
“It’s truly humbling to think how much time and effort has gone into raising the £625,000 needed for this new equipment and I hope that everyone who has supported the charity in any way shares my feelings of pride and achievement today.”
The Biomarker Generator works by creating radioactive tracers which are given to patients who subsequently undergo scans to provide information on cancer and other diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The information collected helps doctors to understand the location of the disease in each patient, how serious it is, and the underlying processes and pathways that are causing the illness.
Professor Herbie Newell, Professor of Cancer Therapeutics at Newcastle University, said: “Today’s official opening of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation PET Tracer Production Unit is a very significant occasion for cancer research and cancer patients.
“Thanks to the funding received through the charity, we are now able to use a whole new screening technology to help us find out where cancers are in patients, how many there are and what they are.
“In CT and X-rays, the radiation comes from outside the patient, passing through the patient, and we take pictures of what comes out the other side.
“But in PET scanning, and what we’ll be able to do now with this new unit, we make the radioactivity and attach it to something called a tracer, which is injected into the patient so the radiation comes from the inside out.
“The first tracer we’re making will be one where we’ll attach the radioactivity to a sugar, which is taken up into the cancer because, like any other cells, cancer cells need energy to grow.
“By taking an image of the patient after we’ve given them the tracer we’ll be able to pinpoint exactly where the cancers are.
“PET scanning will be particularly beneficial for patients on clinical trials of new drugs and we’ll be working closely with the team at the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care.
“We’ll be able to establish much quicker than currently possible whether new drug treatments are working, and whether they are working in the way intended.
“It’s going to make a big difference.
“This new generation of biomarker generators is cutting edge and we’re extremely grateful to everyone who has helped make its purchase possible by supporting the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.”
The Biomarker Generator is being tested to ensure it meets international clinical standards and will begin to be used for patients within the year.
Lady Elsie added: “When my husband and I began the Foundation we had high hopes for what could be achieved and I know Bob would be absolutely thrilled to see this new high tech unit.
“This is what he wanted for his charity, to make a real difference for other people unlucky enough to find they have cancer. It is a truly awful disease but today I feel the scientists, doctors and everyone who has helped the Foundation, have together made a very positive step forward in the fight against cancer.”
Sir Bobby and Lady Elsie launched the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation in 2008 and it has gone on to raise over £4 million to help find more effective treatments for cancer.
It funds projects within the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust that directly benefit cancer patients from across the north east and Cumbria, and which contribute significantly to international research into the disease.
To see a video of the official opening, click on the video player above...