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Collaboration leads to breakthroughs in cancer therapy

The Faculty of Health Science’s Department of Nuclear Medicine has entered a collaboration with the European Commission’s science and knowledge service, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), to develop a new breakthrough treatment for cancer patients.

The JRC is involved in a range of endeavours to advance scientific knowledge, and collaborates with expert scientists across the world to carry out research. It chose the Department of Nuclear Medicine for its expertise in the field of nuclear medicine.

The collaboration enables the Department to treat advanced-stage prostate cancer patients using targeted alpha therapy (TAT). TAT is very expensive and there are strict international security standards regarding nuclear safety. Thus, were it not for this collaboration, the Department would not have been able to treat its patients with this form of therapy. ‘TAT using 225Ac-PSMA has proved to be very successful, with an 85% success in treating patients with advanced-stage prostate cancer,’ explains Prof Mike Sathekge, Head of the Department of Nuclear Medicine. The Department is the only platform in Africa, and one of only three in the world, to offer this treatment. It is situated at Steve Biko Academic Hospital and treats its patients at the hospital.

Recently, an event was held at Steve Biko Academic Hospital to highlight the collaboration between UP and the JRC. The Director of the JRC, Prof Maria Betti, and the EU Deputy Head of Delegation, Mr Raul De Luzenberger, were there to see the success that the Department has had. Prof Betti also extended an invitation and more collaborative opportunities to the South Africa’s Minister of Health, Dr Pakishe Aaron Motsoaledi, who was amazed by the success of the treatment. Dr Motsoaledi expressed his desire to involve the Department in South Africa’s cancer strategy.

Prof Sathekge hopes that their success will increase awareness of the benefits of nuclear medicine for cancer treatment, which will hopefully lead to large-scale trials. He says that thanks to the recent breakthroughs in prostate cancer therapy, people are starting to realise the importance of this treatment, and nuclear medicine and radionuclide therapy are becoming more of a focus point in the curriculum. He says the collaboration with the JRC is of utmost importance and has enabled the Department to make life-changing contributions to patients with advanced cancer.

Also in attendance were Prof Stephanie Burton, Vice-Principal: Research and Postgraduate Education; Prof Tiaan de Jager, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences; Dr Mathabo Mathebula, CEO of Steve Biko Academic Hospital; and Prof Alfred Morgenstern, Head of Alpha Therapy at the JRC.

Left to right: Dr Mathabo Mathebula (CEO SBAH), Prof Mike Sathekge (HOD Nuclear Medicine UP/SBAH), Dr Aaron Motsoaledi (Minister of Health), Prof Stephanie Burton (Vice-Chancellor UP), Prof Maria Betti (Director, EU Directorate for Nuclear Safety and Security). Back Row: Natalija Dolya (EU Trade and Economics), Prof Alfred Morgenstern (Project Leader Targeted Alpha Therapy at EU-JRC), Prof Tiaan De Jageer (Dean UP), Raul de Luzenberger (EU Minister Deputy Head), Mark Flint (CEO Siemens South Africa), Manual Iglesias (EU First Counsellor).

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