Deanna Csomo McCool | July 22, 2019
Notre Dame physicist Ani Aprahamian holds deep feelings for Armenia. Her grandparents were survivors of the Armenian genocide, and her parents were born in refugee camps in Beirut, Lebanon. So knowing that Armenia continuously ranks the highest in mortality rates per capita of six major types of cancers, she wanted to do what she could to solve the problem.
Two years ago Aprahamian, the Freimann Professor of Physics at the University of Notre Dame, was vacationing with cousins when she decided to visit the National Laboratory of Armenia to check on the progress of a newly purchased cyclotron. A cyclotron is a type of particle accelerator, and this one, a Cyclone-18, was purchased in 2012 and installed in 2014 at the former Yerevan Physics Institute. However, it hadn’t yet been operational. The small, approximately 6-foot long cyclotron at Yerevan was intended to provide short-lived radioactive isotopes that can be used for positron-electron tomography (PET) scans that diagnose and detect cancerous tumors. It was also to be used simultaneously for fundamental nuclear science research, nuclear astrophysics, and other applications of nuclear science.
When Aprahamian visited, she was shocked to discover that the cyclotron still was not operational. The reasons are many, but include the difficulty in obtaining the special materials, including high purity gases, needed to operate the cyclotron, and the difficulty of obtaining the material on credit from other European countries. All procurements required cash in advance payments.
One reason Armenia continuously ranks the highest in mortality rates for different cancers is the lack of accessibility of PET technology for early detection. A PET scan machine “picks up small tumors like nothing else can,” Aprahamian said. “It is really a powerful tool, with over 40 million treatments annually in the United States a year.”
Soon, thanks to Aprahamian and collaborators, the citizens of Armenia may get access to this important resource
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