Medicine, Materials, Energy and Environment

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Summary of Projects, Spring 2014

Combating cancer by better targeting tumours, resisting corrosion in potash mines, overcoming design challenges in a nuclear fusion reactor, and increasing understanding of how minerals can contain radioactive or potentially toxic materials are the topics of six research projects that will share in close to $1 million of funding from the Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation.

The leaders of the six research projects, all based at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S), are collaborating with partners from academic institutions from across Canada, the U.S. and U.K., as well as industry, including the U.K.’s Dalton Nuclear Institute, Cameco, Quebec-based Plasmionique, the Canadian Light Source, and  the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency. Overall, the contributions of the partner organizations bring the value of the projects to $2.1 million.

Project Summaries

Nuclear Medicine

Imaging gene delivery nanoparticles targeted to melanoma

This is a proof-of-concept project focused on using nuclear imaging to develop and track the targeted delivery of drugs by nanoparticles – chunks of matter billionths of a metre in size – directly to skin cancer cells. The long-term goal is to develop a method to deliver drugs or gene therapies directly to a tumour or other diseased tissue inside a patient. Being able to better understand the properties of nanoparticles and tracking their distribution in the body is key to using nanoparticles to treat cancer and a number other diseases, as well as to develop new types of vaccines.

Investigating the radiobiological cell response to high energy mini-beam irradiations

  • Project Leader: Gavin Cranmer-Sargison, Saskatchewan Cancer Agency and Department of Oncology, U of S
  • Co-Investigators: Deborah Anderson, Vijayananda Kundapur, Saskatchewan Cancer Agency;
  •  Vitali Moiseenko, University of California, San Diego (USA)
  • Partner: Saskatchewan Cancer Agency

Current radiation therapy techniques use uniform beams of radiation to destroy cancer cells.  However, the treatment outcome can be limited by significant side effects that result from normal tissue also being irradiated. By delivering the radiation as mini-beams, it is hoped that tumours can be effectively treated while sparing more of the surrounding normal tissues. By comparing how tumour cells respond to mini-beam radiation compared to conventional radiation therapy, the researchers will test the potential effectiveness of mini-beam radiation therapy as an alternative form of radiation treatment.

Nuclear Techniques for Materials Research

Neutron Reflectrometry Studies of Biological Membranes and Corrosion Barriers

This project will use neutrons produced by the NRU reactor at Chalk River to study membranes in two systems: the structure and function of membranes in biological cells and the development of membrane coatings that can be applied to steel rebar in concrete to reduce corrosion. Reducing corrosion and concrete breakdown, particularly in high salt environments like potash mines, can reduce maintenance costs and increase mine safety.

Nuclear Energy and Safety Systems

Control of plasma flow in STOR-M by RMP and CT injections: studies of diverter heat flux in COMPASS

Tokamak reactors are one of the designs proposed for a commercial fusion reactor. Inside a tokamak, hydrogen plasma is confined in a doughnut-shaped magnetic field and heated to millions of degrees to get the hydrogen nuclei to squeeze together, fusing into helium and releasing tremendous energy. But several challenges must be overcome before a tokamak fusion power plant can become a reality. This project will look at ways to address some of these challenges, related to supplying the reactor with fuel and controlling the heat produced, using the University of Saskatchewan’s experimental STOR-M tokamak.

Society and Environment

Retention and removal of radionuclides from water by co-precipitation of phosphates and carbonates

This project aims to investigate ways to use certain minerals to retain and remove radioactive isotopes of cesium, iodine and technetium from contaminated groundwater at old nuclear sites or due to a nuclear accident. The ability to permanently encapsulate these isotopes is also important for the development of methods for treating nuclear wastes to enable them to be re-processed into new fuel or safely stored.

Improved biogeochemical models for oxyanions in Saskatchewan uranium mining environment

  • Project Leader: Derek Peak, Department of Soil Science, U of S
  • Co-Investigator: Joyce McBeth, Canadian Light Source; Geological Sciences, U of S
  • Partners: Cameco; Dalton Nuclear Institute, University of Manchester (UK)

Uranium mining generates waste rock and tailings that contain elements of concern such as arsenic. One strategy used by the mining industry to contain these elements is to bind them up in iron oxide minerals.  Mine tailings are chemically complex; for example, microbes and other elements can compete with arsenic for space on the iron oxide minerals. Using the Canadian Light Source and other experimental facilities and techniques, this project aims to refine predictive models that will lead to improved ways to treat and contain elements of concern in mine wastes.