Oklahoma City Nuclear Imaging Clinic Will Bring Early Diagnoses to State

A state-of-the-art nuclear imaging clinic is set to open soon in Oklahoma City, and its leaders say it will bring early, noninvasive diagnostics to Oklahomans for conditions including cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Perigon Imaging is expected to be operational in August. Because the company has only one of the few private cyclotrons in the country and PET-CT scanning capabilities in the same building, it will be able to offer diagnostic imaging that is difficult to find elsewhere.

Derek Prentice, president and CEO of Perigon Imaging, said he hopes the new clinic will make Oklahoma City a “regional center of excellence.”

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What is a cyclotron?

The futuristic sound machine is a particle accelerator. It works by moving particles – like hydrogen atoms, for example – at very high speeds, eventually forming what are called radiopharmaceuticals, radioactive drugs that can be used for diagnostic imaging.

These drugs – also called tracers – can then be safely injected into the body. The radiation emitted when tracers decay can be picked up on scanners such as PET-CT scanners, for example, to detect problems in a specific organ or part of the body.

The inner workings of a PET-CT scanner can be seen at the Perigon Imaging Clinic in Oklahoma City.  Perigon Imaging will have two PET-CT scanners on site for imaging to diagnose diseases such as cancers, heart disease and Alzheimer's disease.

Radiopharmaceuticals disintegrate rapidly. Some break down so quickly that they cannot be easily airlifted or shipped elsewhere, so the drugs must be made and used there. Others may travel short distances by car or plane.

An isotope called ammonia-13 can be used to diagnose blockages in the heart, for example. But the material has an incredibly short half-life. In 10 minutes, half the dose is gone. In 20 minutes, you’re only a quarter of where you started.

Because Perigon has a cyclotron on site, it can make and use ammonia-13 for scans that can diagnose heart disease.

“We will have the only cardiac ammonia-13 PET program in the entire state of Oklahoma,” Prentice said.

Early detection

This type of imaging is critical for early disease detection, Prentice said.

“With early detection, the results are much better,” he said. “Early detection gives the patient and doctor a clear roadmap for how they are going to treat the disease.”

In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, special PET scans can help establish a diagnosis even five or ten years before a person begins to develop symptoms.

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The lead boxes in which isotopes are shipped are pictured June 28 at Perigon Imaging in Oklahoma City.

There is currently a drug available, Aduhelm, which may be able to stop or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, although its approval by the Food and Drug Administration has been controversial and has raised questions about its effectiveness. Other Alzheimer’s drugs are also in the pipeline, Prentice said.

Early diagnosis could therefore eventually be crucial to “stopping the disease in its tracks”, said Dr George Chacko, a nuclear physician who originally led the charge to build the cyclotron in 2002, at the same site where it is used now. . .

Chacko will work with Perigon as the clinic’s medical director.

“We used to fly in isotopes from places as far away as Shreveport, Louisiana, so we had to fly huge doses,” he said. “It actually opened the doors in the state of Oklahoma to make isotopes more accessible not only to ourselves, but also to local institutions” who also perform PET scans.

Chacko, hoping to devote more time to research, was looking for a local partner to take over the operations of the cyclotron and help it grow. Prentice, he said, was the person who came forward.

Sonny Janes, COO of Perigon Imaging, speaks during a tour of the clinic in June 2022. Perigon's on-site cyclotron will allow the company to manufacture and use radiopharmaceuticals that disintegrate too quickly to be transported elsewhere.

Prentice said the Oklahoma City location will be a hub for providing isotopes for diagnostic imaging to locations in surrounding states, putting Oklahoma at the forefront of nuclear imaging.

“It’s the ability for Oklahomans to have access to technology that wasn’t available before,” he said. “The Oklahomans’ quality of life will increase.”

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