Saskatchewan boasts a unique research landscape unlike any other province in Canada. World-class national and provincial research institutes are neighbours with research-focused universities and Innovation Saskatchewan’s research and technology parks, creating a thriving and collaborative ecosystem.
Within this epicentre of innovation sits the Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation (Fedoruk Centre), one of six major research organizations funded by Innovation Saskatchewan. Established as a not-for profit corporation, the Fedoruk Centre is a unique in that it operates the Saskatchewan Cyclotron Facility at University of Saskatchewan (USask), helping to place Saskatchewan among the leaders of nuclear innovation in medicine, technology and energy.
The Fedoruk Centre’s work is multi-pronged: it provides tools and resources to help accelerate research and development, delivers radioisotopes for health care and provides funding to support innovation projects and to strengthen educational capacity at Saskatchewan post-secondary institutions.
Operational since 2016, the Saskatchewan Cyclotron Facility has already had an incredible impact on the Saskatchewan population. For example, 10 years ago before the cyclotron began running, positron emission tomography (PET) scanning for cancer diagnosis, a technology that allows doctors to immediately identify the presence of cancer, wasn’t available in the province. Patients had to go out of province or endure long wait times for results.
Now, the cyclotron produces the isotope required for PET imaging and the province is able to provide these services to over 2,500 patients per year. “That’s a game changer,” said John Root, Executive Director of the Fedoruk Centre. “We’re giving people tools to apply effectively to health care while helping alleviate human anxiety and suffering.”
Recently, the Fedoruk Centre has raised Saskatchewan's nuclear innovation profile globally with three major announcements.
In July 2023, the Fedoruk Centre, in partnership with Discover Saskatoon and University of Saskatchewan (USask), produced the 11th International Conference on Isotopes (11ICI), a prestigious conference highlighting the importance of nuclear science, medicine and technology in advancing human health and protection. The conference draws an elite international audience from inudstry, academic and government, and this year spotlighting the incredible Saskatchewan research community with attendees touring the Canadian Light Source (CLS), USask Allard-Roozen Imaging Suite and Saskatchewan Cyclotron Facility.
“Hosting this international conference in Saskatoon had a huge impact on elevating Fedoruk Centre and Saskatchewan’s profile and placing us among global leaders in nuclear innovation,” said Root.
At 11ICI, the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) announced Saskatchewan is back at the forefront of nuclear innovation, noting its agreement with the Fedoruk Centre to significantly increase the global supply of Actinium-225, a rare medical isotope and ground-breaking weapon in the fight against cancer – an incredible achievement and opportunity.
“This project is a home run,” said Root. “We’ll be putting Saskatchewan at the beginning of a supply chain and creating medical isotopes that will be used everywhere in the world to treat the most challenging forms of cancer, making an impact on people and their health.”
At its Saskatchewan Cyclotron Facility, the Fedoruk Centre will be able to supply more than 30 times the current level of production of this rare isotope, facilitating the necessary clinical research and testing to bring these promising new cancer treatments to life.
This initiative will bring hope to people and families around the world who suffer from untreatable cancers and position Saskatchewan and Canada as a world leader in medical isotope technology and the fight against cancer.
“I’m excited about the impact of this project and to have the privilege of leading an organization with the potential to make a difference in people’s lives around the world,” said Root. “How cool is it that we’re able to do all of this in Saskatchewan with our resources here? It is so cool.”
While the CNL agreement allows the Fedoruk Centre to contribute to isotope production in an established market, Prairies Economic Development Canada (PrairiesCan) announced $410,650 in funding to the Fedoruk Centre that will allow it to develop new isotope products for research and applications in the region.
For examples, the Fedoruk Centre will be able to develop a new capability to produce isotope Gallium-68 for imaging specific cancers.
The economic and innovation impact of producing Gallium-68 at the Saskatchewan Cyclotron Facility, located adjacent to Royal University Hospital (RUH), cannot be overstated. Gallium-68 only lasts a few hours so previously RUH relied on an expensive process where a U.S.-based company would send a generator with radioactive germanium that would produce the isotope after an elaborate process. The generator would lose its potency over time and need to be replaced repeatedly.
The PrairiesCan funding will allow Fedoruk Centre to produce this necessary isotope directly on demand. “This new capability aligns with the innovation mindset at Fedoruk Centre and in Saskatchewan,” says Root. “We’re making sure Saskatchewan has the capacity and resources to be at the forefront of nuclear innovation.”
These three impressive accomplishments just scratch the surface of the work and commitment the Fedoruk Centre has made to nuclear innovation in Saskatchewan.
The Fedoruk Centre is also playing a key role in building Saskatchewan’s foundation in nuclear science and its future in cleaner energy with the anticipated deployment of small modular reactors (SMRs) onto the electricity grid.
Since 2015, the Fedoruk Centre has been instrumental in growing the province's nuclear research, training and education capacity by stimulating the establishment of half a dozen faculty positions at USask and the University of Regina, strengthening Saskatchewan’s capacity to develop highly qualified people for the workforce required to support new nuclear technologies.
“We want young people who live in Saskatchewan to see themselves in a long-term career in the nuclear sector trained by homegrown talent,” says Root. “Having our own pipeline for developing skills and experience creates stronger job security and community engagement than happens if we rely completely on imported talent to support our new technologies.”
There is no doubt that the Fedoruk Centre is achieving its purpose of placing Saskatchewan among global leaders of nuclear research, development and training, helping to spotlight the province’s nuclear sector and its economic future in the province.
“It’s energizing! Our products and services generate third-party revenue that we can invest in further innovation in Saskatchewan, supporting research, development and training in any nuclear subject,” said Root.
The Fedoruk Centre is ready to embrace all the opportunities of nuclear science and make Saskatchewan and Canada a global leader in nuclear innovation.