New sources of medical isotopes
February 23, 2012
A team of Canadian scientists recently announced that they had successfully produced technetium-99m (Tc-99m) using existing cyclotrons in both British Colombia and Ontario. Tc-99m is the most widely used radioisotope in diagnostic nuclear medicine in Canada. Roughly 25,000 diagnostic nuclear medicine scans are performed weekly in Canada using this radioisotope (Medical Isotopes: Health Canada)
Image: Cyclotron of the type used to conduct
the research led by TRIUMF to advance and
diversify the production of Tc‑99m
Paul Schaffer, head of TRIUMF's Nuclear Medicine Division in British Columbia, and one of the team leaders, said “Making medical isotopes in hospitals instead of nuclear reactors is a major milestone for diagnostic imaging for patients in Canada and around the world.”
“We took the principles of physics, chemistry, and engineering that people have known for years, and used them to write a recipe for upgrading a cyclotron, so it could be used to make (Tc-99m)” he added.
The team included researchers from TRIUMF, B.C. Cancer Agency, Lawson Health Research Institute (London, Ontario), and the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization, McMaster University, (Hamilton, Ontario).
Initial funding was provided by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Natural Resources Canada.
This advancement brings good news for the thousands of Canadian patients as well as many more around the world that benefit each year from nuclear medical diagnosis for cancer or heart and bones diseases.
The production of Tc-99m in existing cyclotrons could allow the decentralization of the production, which is now highly dependent on the smooth operation of a few reactors around the world (including one in Canada: the National Research Universal reactor at the Chalk River Laboratories, operated by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.)
In Canada, the cyclotrons are certified by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). “Facilities equipped with cyclotrons are also licensed and regularly inspected by the CNSC, to ensure they are safely operated” said André Régimbald, Director General of the licensing group in charge of regulating nuclear medicine facilities at the CNSC.
“The CNSC generally sees the use of non-reactor-based isotope production technology – like cyclotrons – as a good way of reducing the amount of radioactive waste typically associated with the production of medical isotopes” commented CNSC President Michael Binder. “I congratulate the team for their achievement, and I can assure the public that the CNSC deals with all regulatory matters regarding medical facilities as a priority.”