PhD Label — From producing radioisotopes to dosimetry

During my studies in nuclear physics, I learned all about the atomic nucleus. I was stumped when I learned how the nuclear structure could be described completely by quantum mechanical formalisms and how this naturally leads to radioactive decay as it was observed by M. Curie and her husband. Even more fascinating is the fact that this physical phenomenon eventually contributes to the treatment of cancer patients. However, the transition from a radionuclide into a medicinal product is not evident and requires large efforts and excellent collaborations between various disciplines. Until now, I had the opportunity to dig into two different aspects of radionuclide therapy. After studying the production of medical radioisotopes, I am currently investigating the tumour dosimetry of radionuclide therapy.

For my master thesis, I investigated the potential of a new detector at the MEDICIS laboratory at CERN. This facility was founded especially to promote research in nuclear medicine and to introduce novel radiopharmaceuticals. It makes use of a target that is irradiated by the PSB which is one of the preaccelerators of the large hadron collider, the largest man-made machine on earth. At the MEDICIS facility itself, the aim is to obtain a pure radionuclide sample by extracting it from a target which contains a whole bunch of different radionuclides after irradiation. This can be done by a combination of high temperatures, high electric fields, large electromagnets and high power lasers such that one can play with various physical and chemical properties of the nuclides. The fact that the production of radionuclides requires such large and highly technical infrastructures is not surprising since one needs to overcome the enormous forces that keep the atomic nucleus together in order to destabilise the nuclear conformation.

Once the radionuclides are created, it comes down to optimising the usage of the emitted radiation such that the cancerous cells receive a maximal absorbed dose while limiting the radiation burden to the healthy tissue. With this goal in mind, a team of researchers with expertise in chemistry, pharmacy, biology, and dosimetry develop novel radiopharmaceuticals and try to understand the underlying mechanisms to optimise the treatments.

Recently I got the opportunity to also discover this side of the story as a PhD candidate in the dosimetry group at the Belgian nuclear research centre SCK CEN. Herein I try to develop a model that will be able to predict the treatment outcome on a preclinical level. Such a model will be valuable in the development and evaluation of novel radiopharmaceuticals.

I am blessed with the opportunity to contribute to this interesting field of research. It is inspiring to see how each discipline faces its specific problems and at the same time shares common difficulties of working with radionuclides. Furthermore, the short half-life of the relevant isotopes asks for an excellent collaboration, for which PRISMAP can act as a catalyst. In the end, the combined expertise will aid to reach the common final goal: providing better treatments for the patients.

Kaat Spoormans

After finishing her master in nuclear physics at the KU Leuven, Kaat recently started as a PhD student in the dosimetry group at the Belgian nuclear research centre SCK CEN in collaboration with the group of nuclear medicine and molecular imaging at KU Leuven. Her research focusses on TCP modeling in preclinical radionuclide therapy.

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