ZRT – Center for Radiopharmaceutical Tumor Research
Within the new ZRT building complex, the Institute of Radiopharmaceutical Cancer Research has a vast range of facilities at its disposal under one roof: multiple laboratories for chemical and biological research, a powerful ring accelerator (cyclotron), certified cleanrooms for drug production and areas for modern laboratory animal husbandry as well as imaging equipment. The ZRT thus completes the research infrastructure of the institute on site. In close cooperation, the six departments at the ZRT are developing and testing radioactive drugs for cancer diagnostics and therapy. The corresponding processes are accompanied from the idea (clinical need) to the introduction of novel drugs into clinical practice. The ZRT enables an even greater variety of methods and forms the basis for extended cooperation possibilities with partners from science and industry.
Cyclotron for radionuclide production
One important element of the center is the ring accelerator, which went into operation in 2018. With a proton energy of 30 MeV and a beam current of 350 µA, it is much more powerful than its predecessor. Since the particle beam can be extracted at two opposite exits, two different radionuclides can be produced at the same time. The higher particle energy also gives scientists access to radionuclides that could not be produced before, which could form the basis for the development of completely new types of radioactive drugs. Through a special distribution system, the radionuclides reach the respective research laboratories of the institute and the cleanrooms for the production of radiopharmaceuticals.
“29 Tonnen Forschungspower” Magazine “Insider” December 2016
Laboratories for applied basic research and drug development
In the special laboratories of the ZRT, scientists conduct interdisciplinary research. They all share the overall goal of developing novel drugs and introducing them into clinical practice. Based on fundamental investigations of inflammatory and precancerous processes, they can identify promising compounds for clinical application. Together with physicians at the University Hospital “Carl Gustav Carus” of the TU Dresden, the HZDR staff develop and optimize so-called radiotracers. These radioactively labeled drugs enable a better diagnosis of cancer. They accumulate in specific tissue structures, i.e. malignant tumors or metastases, and can be visualized using positron emission tomography (PET). In addition, the scientists are investigating the potential of special immunological structures that can serve as starting substances or targets for drug development. As part of the translation of theoretical findings into clinical practice, the HZDR is also responsible for providing scientific support for clinical studies, for example for individualized, patient-specific radiotherapy.
In the laboratories of the ZRT, researchers work on the following topics, among others:
- Molecular biology
- Radionuclide-based tumor biology
- Radiochemistry including radionuclide generation
- Radio/tumor immunology
- Small-animal imaging
Computer-assisted tumor detection and characterization
The development of computer-based methods for image refinement and evaluation is part of an optimal tumor diagnosis for the individual patient. The ZRT is equipped with capabilities for the further development of three- and four-dimensional image analysis. With improved algorithms and analysis methods, tumors can be mapped in ever greater detail and processes inside the body can be visualized exactly. This in turn is the prerequisite for nuclear physicians to assess the size and location of tumors in order to develop an individual treatment plan. The subsequent preparation and processing of the extensive data eventually contributes to the analysis and documentation of treatment successes. At the HZDR Institutes of Radiopharmaceutical Cancer Research and of Radiooncology – OncoRay, scientists work closely together with nuclear physicians from the Clinics of Nuclear Medicine and of Radiotherapy and Radiooncology at the University Hospital “Carl Gustav Carus” of the TU Dresden. The common goal is optimal tumor monitoring, i.e. the image-assisted improvement of cancer therapies.
- Imaging with combined positron emission / magnetic resonance tomography (PET/MR)
- Radiooncological PET/MR imaging
Laboratory animal husbandry
On the way to novel and safe treatment methods and drugs for humans, legislation stipulates mandatory animal experimentation. The HZDR meets the resulting high responsibility with state-of-the-art conditions that both fulfill (and in some cases exceed) the current guidelines for animal welfare and offer optimal scientific conditions. With a maximum capacity of 1,900 mice and 300 rats, the facility guarantees optimum care for the animals even after work and at weekends. The central monitoring system offers additional security. Individual ventilation and special cleaning and feeding procedures ensure little disturbance to the animals. Special hygiene measures guarantee that research results are reliable even when working with immunosuppressed animals. For the well-being of the animals, these are only kept individually in case of medical indication. Climbing opportunities and nesting material in the cages keep the animals occupied.
GMP-certified cleanrooms for the production of radiopharmaceuticals
The Department of Radiopharmaceuticals Production at the ZRT produces radioactively labeled drugs, so-called radiotracers, according to the current state of the art and in compliance with Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), i.e. stringent pharmaceutical regulations during production in special rooms separated from the pure research facilities.
Science and clinical application will benefit equally from the expanded cleanroom capacities when a larger number of clinically usable radiotracers will be available than is the case today. The department produces radiotracers mainly within the framework of the PET Center, an interdisciplinary research facility of the HZDR together with the Clinics of Nuclear Medicine and of Radiotherapy and Radiooncology at the University Hospital “Carl Gustav Carus” of the TU Dresden. On request, other hospitals in central Germany can also be supplied with radiopharmaceuticals through cooperating sales partners.