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Fundamentals of Radiopharmaceutical Sciences 

at The University of Alberta




Course Weight (no. of credits 3.0): 3

Term Offered:

  1. Spring term: 1st and 2nd week of May

  2. Fall term: 1st and 2nd week of September


Prof Ralf Schirrmacher (course organizer, seminar speaker, lab supervision), Dr Justin Bailey (course organizer, lab supervision, experimental design)


Calendar Description:

Radionuclide imaging, the handling of radio-isotopes and the measurement of radioactivity is constantly gaining importance in a multitude of research disciplines. Classical nuclear chemistry as well as more life science oriented radiopharmaceutical chemistry rely on the same basic knowledge and practical capabilities with regards to radionuclide usage. Learning the safe handling and usage of radio-isotopes “from scratch” is a field of teaching that is currently underrepresented in Canada. This basic course teaches radionuclide handling, the measurement of radioactivity and the application of radionuclides in life sciences. Alongside the practical introduction, an accompanying seminar will provide the students with the necessary background knowledge to comfortably become engaged with the practical challenges of radionuclide handling.


Course Objectives:

The practical course will broach the issues of radionuclide physics and chemical behavior. The students will learn how to adequately protect themselves and others from the detrimental consequences of radiation exposure before engaging in any practical activities. Radiation safety procedures and the understanding of radioactivity will convey the required knowledge to prudently and securely use radioisotopes. At this early stage of the course the students will gain the theoretical knowledge to appropriately start basic experimental work which is the main topic of this practical introduction.

As the course progresses, the students will be taught radiation measurement techniques and their limitations. This part of the course will teach the basics of radiation detection and quantification. The most prominent measuring devices such as Gas-filled detectors, scintillation detectors and semiconductor detectors will be theoretically explained and practically used in a series of experiments the students have to perform themselves to experience radioactivity detection and quantification first hand. The characteristics of a Geiger Muller Counter will be determined as well as the characteristics of a proportional counter. These experiments will provide a deeper understanding of the limitations and applicability of different measurement devices. The statistics of radioactive decay will be a dominant topic during this part of the course.

The students will also learn how to determine the half-life of a radionuclide (e.g. cyclotron produced technetium-99m and fluorine-18 provided by MICF and the Cross Cancer Institute) by using the measurement techniques they have previously learned. The students will follow the radioactive decay of selected radionuclides, learn the principles of alpha, beta and gamma emission and study the differences between these distinct types of radiation. Radioactive equilibrium will be demonstrated studying several types of radionuclide generators that play an important role in medical isotope imaging. The Molybdenum/Technetium- as well as the Germanium/Gallium generator (both generators are available at the Cross Cancer Institute) will receive special attention.

The students/participants will perform simple radioactive labeling experiments based on isotopic exchange, nucleophilic exchange and radiometal complexation. After successfully attending this course the students will be adequately prepared to follow their interest in radioisotope applications in nuclear- and radiochemistry as well as related life sciences.


Target Audience:

Laboratory course in basic modern nuclear- and radiochemistry measurement and labeling techniques.   Designed for Chemistry Honors and specialization students in their third or fourth year.  Nuclear Medicine Residents, Pharmacy, Neurology and Oncology students are encouraged to enroll if they plan to work with radioactive isotopes.  Other students may enroll subject to space limitations. AHS members have the opportunity to enroll and external individuals from other universities or the industry can take this course to acquire a certificate of knowledge.


Rationale for offering the course:

Training programs for the safe handling and usage of radioisotopes are sparse in Canada’s education system. Students wishing to pursue a career in nuclear medicine or in the design and production of radiopharmaceuticals currently have no options at the University of Alberta to learn about the basic practical aspects of this topic.  This course is offered to ease the difficulties students encounter while integrating into a radiochemical research environment.

The facilities at MICF are ideally equipped to provide students with the opportunity to work with radionuclides in an instructional setting to become comfortably engaged with the practical challenges of radionuclide handling and measuring.  Such a course would be unique in Canada and better position the University of Alberta to attract research interest in the rapidly growing field of radiopharmaceutical sciences.

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