[News-releases] Canadian team develops method for hospitals to make critical medical isotope without reactors

Tim Meyer tmeyer at triumf.ca
Mon Feb 20 07:16:49 PST 2012

News Release | For Immediate Release | February 20, 2012, 8:00 a.m. PST

Team makes technetium isotopes on existing cyclotrons in Ontario, BC

(Vancouver, BC) --- At a special session at the annual meeting of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science, a team led by TRIUMF
announced the successful production of the key medical isotope
technetium-99m on cyclotrons already available in Ontario and British
Columbia.  This development allows hospitals and clinics with existing
cyclotrons to make the isotope traditionally only available from nuclear
reactors.  The team includes TRIUMF, BC Cancer Agency, Lawson Health
Research Institute, and the Centre for Probe Development and

Paul Schaffer, head of TRIUMF’s Nuclear Medicine Division 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 technetium-99m.
We’ve just completed using that recipe on machines in both Ontario and BC.”

Each year, tens of millions of medical procedures are conducted around the
world with technetium-99m, an isotope used in radiopharmaceuticals for
imaging disease in the heart, bones, and elsewhere in the body.  Two ageing
nuclear reactors produce about three quarters of the global supply; one of
them is the NRU reactor in Chalk River.  In the past few years, both
reactors have suffered maintenance and repair outages, threatening the
global supply of medical isotopes.  The conventional technology with
reactors also involves the use of highly enriched uranium.  

Tom Ruth, senior scientist at TRIUMF and the BC Cancer Agency and principal
investigator for the team said, “One of these cyclotrons can supply a metro
area such as Vancouver and there are more than a dozen of these cyclotrons
in hospitals across Canada.  What we’ve shown is that a decentralized model
for producing technetium is now possible.  We are in discussions with
several industrial partners and regional health authorities about how to
start implementing this vision.  The science and the technology are
essentially ready.”

“As this technology is rolled out across Canada, it will help hospitals save
time and money, and reduce the wait that patients have been experiencing for
critical diagnostic tests,” added team member Francois Benard, BC Leadership
Chair in Functional Cancer Imaging at UBC and senior scientist at the BC
Cancer Agency. 

With early support from NSERC and CIHR and additional funding through
NRCan’s Non-reactor-based Isotope Supply Contribution Program, the
TRIUMF-led team has succeeded in developing an alternative technology---one
that makes use of existing cyclotron machines at Canadian hospitals and
institutes across the country.  The core of the technology includes
preparing solid targets of molybdenum-100 and placing them in an automated
system for irradiation with the cyclotron.  The team developed these tools
along with chemistry that isolates and purifies the technetium-99m. 

Benard explained, “The goal was to develop a technical solution that would
work for many people, not just one machine or one brand of machine.  Our
team has demonstrated that the existing and growing fleet of cyclotrons in
Canada---which already make isotopes for PET imaging---can be successfully
used to make high quality technetium-99m to diversify the supply of this

The team achieved a global first with the production of technetium on a GE
cyclotron.  Frank Prato, a member of the team and the director and founder
of the Lawson Health Research Institute said, “It has been a delight to work
with the entire team.  We achieved a global first with the demonstrated
production of technetium on a GE cyclotron.  Almost half of the existing
cyclotrons in the U.S. are GE machines.” 


Timothy I. Meyer, Ph.D.
Head, Strategic Planning & Communications
TRIUMF -- Accelerating Science for Canada |
    Un accélérateur de la démarche scientifique canadienne
4004 Wesbrook Mall
Vancouver, BC  V6T 2A3  CANADA
Tel: 604-222-7674
Fax: 604-222-3791
Cell: 650-464-8955
E-mail: tmeyer at triumf.ca
WWW: http://www.triumf.ca

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