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The grand opening Tuesday of the Medical Isotope and Cyclotron Facility at the University of Alberta in Edmonton marked a step toward a new supply model for the medical isotope technetium-99m. But a lot of steps remain.

The facility is still two or three years away from receiving final clearance for commercial production of Tc-99m. About that same time, the National Research Universal nuclear reactor at Chalk River in Ontario will be shut down permanently. The reactor, which came on line in 1957, supplies more than half of the world’s medical isotopes.

The Alberta cyclotron represents an attempt to move to a decentralized model for supplying isotopes. Sandy McEwan, MD, professor and chair of oncology at the university, explained the facility’s significance to the Edmonton Journal:

We are now on the cusp of moving from one generation of medical imaging and the role of radiation medicine to the next generation, and with this building we have the tools to internationally lead that charge.

Tc-99m is used in about 80 percent of nuclear medicine procedures. Typically, nuclear reactors produce its parent isotope, molybdenum-99, which is transported in generators that, in hospitals and clinics, extract the Tc-99m.

Research led by the University of Alberta has demonstrated that a cyclotron can produce Tc-99m isotopes comparable in quality and purity as those derived from a nuclear reactor, Dr. McEwan said. So Canada plans a network of 12 to 15 cyclotrons across the country producing Tc-99m directly, skipping the Mo-99 step. Tc-99m has a half life of only six hours, so it must be made fresh every day and can be distributed only locally. Dr. McEwan said the Alberta cyclotron will make Tc-99m at night and be free for research use during the day.

“We’ve got to work very, very, very fast over the next six to nine months to validate the quality, validate the quantity, and to validate the cost effectiveness,” he said. “Our initial calculations suggest we can make the isotope for about the same amount that we get it from the reactor.”

Cyclotrons cost much less to build than nuclear reactors. The Alberta facility is budgeted at $28 million. At that price, 15 would cost $420 million—less than 10 percent of the cost of a single reactor.

“The fleet of nuclear reactors that produces the isotopes is old, is increasingly fragile, and has one of the most complex supply chains you can imagine,” Dr. McEwan said. “This cyclotron is designed to stop that very complex chain. We can do away with use of uranium, do away with the very complex waste disposal, and we make everything locally.”

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One Response to “Revolution In Isotope-Making Advances A Step”

  1. Radiology Daily»AlertArchive » Isotope-Making Breakthrough May Be ‘World-Changing’ on July 8th, 2014 at 2:02 pm

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