“Let us celebrate innovation, scholarship, and finding African solutions for Africa."
These words of congratulation came from Dr Beth Engelbrecht, Head of the Department of Health in the Western Cape, during the launch of a state-of-the-art imaging research facility that opened its doors at Tygerberg Hospital last week.
The Nuclear Medicine Research Infrastructure (NuMeRI) Node for Infection Imaging (NII) is South Africa's first positron-emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) facility dedicated to clinical research. It has one of the most advanced PET/CT systems currently available in the world, a Philips Vereos PET/CT – only the second of its kind installed in the southern hemisphere.
“We are very fortunate to host one of the Department of Science and Innovation's Centres for Excellence in Tuberculosis Research, and through this particular node of NuMeRI, we will be able to do a lot of research to bring us closer to eradicating the disease," Prof Eugene Cloete, Stellenbosch University's Vice-Rector: Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies said in his address at the launch.
The NuMeRI NII forms part of the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR). The Node is hosted by the Stellenbosch University's Central Analytical Facilities and is located at Tygerberg Hospital, in Cape Town. It is funded by the Department of Science and Innovation, Stellenbosch University and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“Given the high prevalence of TB in the Western Cape, the facility is poised to use research to find novel solutions to address this disease burden," said Dr Daniel Adams, Chief Director: Basic Sciences and Infrastructure at the Department of Science and Innovation (and acting Deputy-Director General). “Its presence should touch the lives of people of the Western Cape and contribute to the improvement of quality of life of people in the country at large."
Dr Alex Doruyter, Director and Staff Scientist at the NuMeRI NII said that “PET/CT is well suited as a research tool to study the diseases that plague our society. These include infectious diseases like HIV and TB, but also malignant diseases such as breast, lung, cervix and prostate cancer; neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease and traumatic brain injury; psychiatric diseases such as depression and anxiety; and cardiac diseases such as coronary artery disease." PET-CT is an imaging technique that allows for non-invasive, precision imaging of biological processes through the use of radioactive molecules of interest (radiopharmaceuticals); coupled with the anatomical detail of conventional CT scanning. “This allows researchers to visualise and quantify selected biological processes with a high degree of accuracy," Doruyter said.
The NII includes a fully-equipped radiopharmacy laboratory with hot and cold labs; clean room; and quality control area and is supervised by a specialist radiopharmacist. This component of the facility ensures injected radiotracers are of high quality and are safe for injection; allows for on-site radio-labelling of kit-based PET tracers; and is involved in the de-novo synthesis of novel candidate molecules.
Although PET-CT has been available in the Western Cape for some time, researchers have had to compete with the main mandate of these scanners, which is one of clinical service provision. “There has until now not been much access for researchers. The combination of the world's only truly digital PET-CT camera, combined with our radiopharmacy facilities and research expertise, presents researchers with a great opportunity to perform first-class research" Doruyter said.
From left to right: Dr Daniel Adams, Dr Beth Engelbrecht and Prof Eugene Cloete with the PET/CT scanner.
From left to right: Dr Dimitri Erasmus, Prof Eugene Cloete, Prof Gary Stevens, Dr Daniel Adams, Dr Beth Engelbrecht, Dr Alex Doruyter, Prof Jimmy Volmink, Mr Charles Mokonoto and Prof Nico Gey van Pittius.
Photos by Stefan Els