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South Africa inaugurates ‘first of its kind’ nuclear medicine hub

 Image: Department of Science and Innovation

International Atomic Energy Agency pledges support for Pretoria-based facility for cancer treatment and research

A centre to scale up nuclear medicine training and research across the African continent has officially opened in Pretoria, South Africa.

The Nuclear Medicine Research Infrastructure, or NuMeRI, has been set up as a not-for-profit company associated with the University of Pretoria’s nuclear medicine department and is located at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital.

The facility, which has been built and commissioned over several years, houses imaging equipment used for cancer diagnosis, treatment, drug development and clinical research.

South African science officials told the ribbon-cutting ceremony on 21 May that NuMeRI is the first of its kind in Africa.

Filling gaps

Speaking just before the ceremony, Lerato Makgae, national liaison officer to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the IAEA would designate NuMeRI as a regional “anchor centre” in early June.

The IAEA’s anchor centres support radiotherapy training for fellows from their regions, she said.

“A lot of our countries…are struggling with cancer management and there’s no resources, there’s no skills,” said Makgae. “We have inadequate medical physicists and we are struggling in terms of putting curricula [in place].”

NuMeRI’s president Mike Sathekge told Research Professional News that collaborations are ongoing or soon to be established with institutions in Nigeria, Ghana, Mauritius, Zambia, Namibia, Senegal and Ethiopia.

Makgae also said that NuMeRI will be recognised as an IAEA Collaborating Centre for nuclear medicine and radiotherapy, alongside the iThemba Labs, a national facility that collaborates with the IAEA on nuclear instrumentation.

The iThemba Labs particle accelerators in Cape Town produce the radioisotopes that NuMeRI uses for medical treatments.

One-stop shop

In a statement, the Department of Science and Innovation called NuMeRI a “one-stop shop” for imaging and therapy.

The facility is “equipped with two cyclotrons (one for a commercial partner and one for research), seamlessly connected to two separate radiopharmacies”, the statement said.

The department has invested 390 million rand (US$21.4m) in NuMeRI since 2020, with an additional R85m for the University of Pretoria to construct the facility’s building.

Prior to that spending, the first ‘phase’ of NuMeRI had originally been established at the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation at a cost of R150m between 2016 and 2019.