Au coeur de

Nuclear is also good for health

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Deeply involved in the work achieved with the cyclotron Arronax, located in Nantes, the École des Mines de Nantes has fostered cutting edge technologies in medical imaging and cancer treatment. Interview with Bernd Grambow, the director of the Subatech department.

Everybody knows Arronax, the cyclotron unveiled in november 2008 at Saint-Herblain, mentioned in Talents des Mines. What does Arronax Plus stand for ?


Bernd Grambow.- This term derives from a new fact : in December 2011, Arronax was choosen as an “equipment of excellence” - also know as “Équipex” - during the second wave of calls for proposals in the context of the Great loan 1 . Five academic partners were supporting this project : the Subatech department of the École des Mines de Nantes, the CRCNA, the IRCNA, the Ceisam and the CRIP-Oniris. First of all, this success is due to the great expectations that this equipment has raised in the medical field. As a matter of fact, it was included in a list of 36 prize-winners choosen among 270 projects. Being an “Équipex” also brings new financing, i.e. 8 million euros that will foster multidisciplinary research in nuclear medicine and radiolysis. In these areas, Nantes will become a world-class pole in R&D and valuation of research. This decision is going to benefit the excellence laboratory, or “labex”, IRON (Innovative Radiopharmaceuticals in Oncology and Neurology), a programme coordinated by the University of Nantes and the CHU 2 with, again, the same partners, i.e., GIP Arronax, Subatech and Oniris.


What is the contribution of Subatech to this programme ?


B.G.- The clinical area and the medicines will remain in the CHU scope. Subatech will focus on its speciality, radioelements. First, we will work on what is called “vectorization”, i.e. the best way to adapt radioelements to a molecule, be it for imaging or internal radiation therapy. We have to determine the precise spot of the human body where radiation therapy shall be applied to kill cancer cells without going through healthy tissues, as much as possible. This research is also usefull to cure scattered cancers. Our field of expertise also extends to chemistry, since making the radioelements demands a metallic target from wich they are extracted ; these operations also demand to implement strict radiation protection rules, and we do have this expertise. Finally, innovation in imaging also extends to the new generation of PET 3 cameras which need ten to twenty times less radioactivity to obtain the same precision. This research is also financed by the Region Pays de Loire through Arronax Plus.


This axis « Nuclear and Health » is quite unexpected from Subatech…


B.G.- I wouldn’t put it this way. The École des Mines de Nantes has been doing research in alpha immunotherapeutics for a long time. Over the years, “Nuclear and Health” has become one of the main lines of Subatech, on a par with high energy physics – research on the big bang – and nuclear energy, including the part regarding waste. This line is evolving as expected, relying on a team of fifteen people, persons preparing a thesis, disciplinary groups and horizontal projects gathering different groups.


And compels you to establish internal as well as external links…


B.G.- It’s our role. The region has put 35 million euros in the Arronax, which has a heavy impact on research, wether it is taking place in Nantes or in a broader area. We do not have the right to disappoint : cooperation has to be efficient.

1 The french Government launched in 2010 a great loan to boost growth.

2 University Hospital (CHU : Centre Hospitalier Universitaire).

3 Positron Emission Tomography cameras


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