Cyklotron, DTU Sundhedsteknologi

Urgent need for radioactive substances for cancer treatment

Radioactive pharmaceuticals and isotopes Health and diseases

DTU doubling production capacity of radioactive substances for cancer treatment with construction of new cyclotron at DTU Risø Campus.

PET scans of cancer patients by hospitals requires the production of more radioactive substances for use in diagnostics and treatment. A new cyclotron at DTU’s Risø Campus will ensure the manufacture of medical preparations and continued research and development of isotopes for diagnostic and therapeutic use. The expansion of production capacity has been made possible with a donation of DKK 13.5 million from the John and Birthe Meyer Foundation.

“A new cyclotron is crucial for us to continue working with production and research within radioisotopes at DTU. Without this grant, we could not continue to supply preparations to the Danish hospitals, so this is very good news for DTU, for the researchers and laboratory technicians in the Hevesy Laboratory—and not least for the patients who need PET scans as part of their treatment,” says Jørgen Schøller, Head of Section at DTU Health Tech.

A cyclotron is a circular machine for accelerating charged particles which is used to isolate an element in different versions of the same element—so-called isotopes. At the Department of Health Technology, the cyclotron will be used, among other things, to produce radioactive isotopes which are used in several of the country’s hospitals for Positron Emission Tomography—also known as PET scanning.

Ensures patients’ PET scan

"With the new cyclotron, we can also in the future participate fully in other prominent research while maintaining our special supply to the Danish hospitals"
Jørgen Schøller

DTU already has a cyclotron, but a supplementary machine is urgently needed to keep up with the demand for its use.

“Currently, we are at full capacity, so it is difficult to turn the cyclotron off when we perform service and maintenance. The high radioactive radiation doses in the machine’s surroundings mean that you can’t approach the machine until the isotope has decayed considerably, so it’s not a straightforward process. And that means that we have to cancel production, which affects the patients waiting for PET scans. A new cyclotron provides security of supply so that we can meet demand and also continue with maintenance and service,” explains Jørgen Schøller.

DTU manufactures up to 20 standard isotopes for patient care, and half of them are used for PET scans. The production of almost 1,000 patient doses per year is a highly specialized process.

“The new cyclotron will be quite similar to the old one, so we can ensure that production takes place in exactly the same way in both cyclotrons. With two cyclotrons, we can meet the demand for isotopes, and continue servicing and maintaining this wonderful gift from the John and Birthe Meyer Foundation in the way it deserves,” says Jørgen Schøller.

Research or security of supply

DTU has been successful in developing a new method for the production of Cu-64, which is a tracer with a radioactive half-life of 12.7 hours.

“We would like to continue to work on the dissemination of this substance. The production of Cu-64 is demanding in terms of both cyclotron capacity and radiochemistry, but here we see a very important bridge-building opportunity from diagnostic use directly to therapy because we believe that therapeutic effects of the highly concentrated, short-range radiation emanating from Cu-64 can be achieved here. Therapeutic radionuclides are a field that has seen a sharp rise in interest and success in recent years. This is due to technological advances which now specifically affect cancer nodes and metastases,” explains Jørgen Schøller.

Also read: Production of Cu-64 - DTU Health Tech (English)

Significantly better conditions

Historically, experimental productions and development work have had to give way to the earmarked clinical trace elements, regardless of their high future potential.

“But with the new cyclotron, we can also in the future participate fully in other prominent research while maintaining our special supply to the Danish hospitals. Due to the growth of the Hevesy Laboratory which houses the cyclotron, we are in a situation where—for radiation hygiene reasons—we face difficult priorities between production for patients, the development of new medicines, and production for research. With two cyclotrons, we want to achieve greater security of supply for clinical use—also for more advanced products where we are the sole manufacturer. At the same time, we will have significantly improved conditions for expanding the research—which in the long term will also benefit patients,” says Jørgen Schøller.

Special Consultant Mattia Siragusa will be responsible for the new cyclotron and he is looking forward to taking delivery.

“It’s a privilege to be allowed to participate in the installation of a completely new cyclotron. It’s not something that happens every day. The additional cyclotron allows for better capacity planning. But first we need to build a new bunker for the equipment at Risø and then we need to hire new laboratory technicians. I’m looking forward to it,” says Mattia Siragusa.


For the past ten years, Positron Emission Tomography (PET) has developed into an indispensable diagnostic study , especially in the field of oncology. This is further reinforced by the development of combined PET/CT scanners, which provide both functional and anatomical information in a synergistic way. The expected growth in demand will be a major challenge both in terms of acquisitions and implementation of equipment—and the training of staff.

(Source: Danish Health Authority 2019, special report).


A cyclotron consists of a vacuum chamber with two D-shaped electrodes in which charged particles are accelerated by a high-frequency alternating voltage. A transverse magnetic field keeps the particles in a spiral path, and as the particles move further and further out, their speed increases. The acceleration occurs every time a particle moves from one electrode to the other. A cyclotron can only accelerate charged particles, such as protons,deuterons,alpha particles, and ions. If ions of a particular element are accelerated in a cyclotron, the different isotopes will move in different directions and deposit in separate spots due to their deviant weight. 


Isotopes are different versions of the same element. This means that they have the same atomic number but different atomic masses due to the fact that the number of protons in the atomic nucleus is retained while the number of neutrons varies depending on the individual isotope.