Cyclotron and Advanced Imaging

Powerful Combination: Cyclotron and PET Imaging
The Bahl Center for Metabolomics and Imaging provides state-of-the-art technologies and facilities for world-class researchers.

The Center is equipped with its own cyclotron and two positron emission tomography (PET) scanners. It will have facilities for developing new radiotracers as well as a manufacturing facility for producing and analyzing human grade radiotracers.

A cyclotron is a particle accelerator. It is used in medicine to create radioactive tracer molecules that help physicians and researchers diagnose, observe and treat illnesses such as cancer.

The cyclotron produces subatomic particles called protons and accelerates them in a circular orbit at aroung 10 percent of the speed of light. The high-energy protons strike a target and the resulting nuclear reaction creates a radioactive isotope.

  • The radioactive isotopes are used to synthesize molecules called radiotracers. A common PET radiotracer FDG, which is used in diagnosis, mimics glucose that occurs naturally in body tissues.
  • Carbon-11 is a common PET isotope that is formed as carbon dioxide. This material has to undergo several rapid chemical reactions to incorporate it into the finished radiotracer. The whole manufacturing process typically is performed in less than 40 minutes.
  • Cyclotron produced PET isotopes typically have short half-lives and the cyclotron needs to be located close to the manufacturing facility and the PET camera.

Carbon-11 produced by the cyclotron
Carbon-11 (C-11) is a short lived (20 minute half-life) radioactive isotope produced by the cyclotron. Because it can be used to replace natural carbon-12, present in any organic compound, it is frequently used to prepare radiotracers for PET imaging of cancer. 

  • C-11 tracers are valuable in diagnosing cancer, staging the progress of the cancer, and investigating the effectiveness of anticancer drugs.
    • Molecules containing C-11 are injected intravenously into patients. In the body, the C-11 tracer targets and binds to specific areas of the body to reflect defined biological pathways.
  • The C-11 emits positrons, which travel a short distance before finding an electron create two gamma rays that travel in opposite directions. The PET scanner detects these two gamma rays and, produces real-time images of the biologic pathway or metabolic processes of the organ and any tumor in the organ.

What types of cancer can be involved in research using the cyclotron and PET scans?
The types of cancer that may become part of these research studies include brain, breast, cervical, colorectal, esophageal, gastrointestinal, head and neck, lung, lymphoma, melanoma, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate and thyroid cancers.

Learn more about the Cancer Care Teams that treat these types of cancers.

Learn more about Stony Brook's Advanced Imaging Department.