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Isotope-Making Breakthrough May Be ‘World-Changing’

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A new method of creating radioisotopes could not only eliminate the chronic shortages that the medical world has faced in recent years but also lead to new types of medical imaging and nuclear medicine therapy, according to one of the technique’s developers.

Mark Raizen, PhD, professor of physics at the University of Texas at Austin, is senior editor of an article about the breakthrough that was published online last week in Nature Physics. In a UT Austin news release, he didn’t hold back about the implications:

I believe this is world-changing in a way that is unique among all the projects that I have done. And I do feel passionately about it. There are many potential uses of isotopes that we don’t even know yet. But they’ve been held back because the price has been so high or it’s been unavailable.

The magnetically activated and guided isotope separation (MAGIS) method uses low-powered lasers and permanent magnets to enrich a variety of stable isotopes—including molybdenum-99, parent isotope to technetium-99m, which is used extensively in nuclear medicine imaging. It may even be able to develop new isotopes. It uses much less energy than traditional enrichment methods, such as calutrons, and thus is much less expensive. And it comes at a time when traditional sources of radioisotopes are on the verge of disappearing and new ones are unproven.

“There is a looming crisis for all of nuclear medicine,” Dr. Raizen told DOTmed News, “but I believe we will avert that with this development.” UT Austin has been issued a patent for MAGIS. Dr. Raizen plans to create a nonprofit foundation to license the technology in ways that will do the most good. “That will be one of the missions of the foundation,” he said, “to explore and develop isotopes to benefit humanity.”

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