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Good News, Bad News On Isotope Shortage

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Just as medical isotopes from the finally restarted nuclear reactor at Chalk River, Ontario, have begun trickling into the supply pipeline, doctors at a national symposium warned of the possible consequences of the current isotope shortage.

Before it was unexpectedly shut down in May 2009, the Chalk River plant had produced up to a third of the world’s medical isotopes—and half of the U.S. supply of the precursor for technetium-99m, used in 80 percent of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures that require isotopes. With repairs of a heavy-water leak completed at last, the reactor restarted last week.

Lantheus Medical Imaging of North Billerica, Massachusetts, which supplies radiopharmaceuticals, told DOTmed News that  it expected that the first isotopes would start reaching U.S. clinics about now. “Lantheus will manufacture their first lot of TechneLite produced with NRU-sourced material this weekend,” Bill Dawes, a Lantheus vice president, said last week. “This material will be in hospitals and clinics on Monday.”

Another isotope-producing plant, the High Flux Reactor in Petten, Netherlands, closed for repairs in February. It is scheduled to resume production next month.

At a symposium during yesterday’s opening session in Boston of the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, scientists said the isotope shortage could jeopardize patient care, increase health care costs, and also threaten such nonmedical endeavors as scientific research and oil exploration.

In an interview at the meeting, Robert Atcher, PhD, said, “Although the public may not be fully aware, we are in the midst of a global shortage of medical and other isotopes. If we don’t have access to the best isotopes for medical imaging, doctors may be forced to resort to tests that are less accurate, involve higher radiation doses, are more invasive and more expensive.”

Dr. Atcher directs the National Isotope Development Center, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy and is responsible for production of isotopes nationwide. He was quoted in an American Chemical Society news release.

He said the shortage was forcing some doctors to order fewer imaging procedures:

“Doctors have been trying everything they can think of to meet the needs of patients, including the use of other, less-than-ideal isotopes, but it has been a real struggle.”

He noted that the United States produces only 10 to 15 percent of the medical isotopes it needs domestically, and that the nuclear medicine community has been lobbying the U.S. government to increase domestic production capability.

“The challenge we have is to produce enough materials to meet commercial needs as well as the needs of the research community—from nuclear physics to environmental research to medical research—amid increasing demands and fewer isotope sources,” Dr. Atcher said. “The long-term solution to this crisis remains to be seen.”

Well, that’s not exactly reassuring, is it? Nor is this bit of information: the Canadian government plans to close the Chalk River plant permanently in 2016.

Related seminar: Radiology Review

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2 Responses to “Good News, Bad News On Isotope Shortage”

  1. Radiology Daily»AlertArchive » Massachusetts Audit Cites ‘Unneeded’ Imaging on September 7th, 2010 at 9:14 am

    […] address medical isotope needs (which we also recently discussed), two Belgian groups and a French group announced on Thursday a partnership to manufacture and […]

  2. Radiology Daily»AlertArchive » Canada Moves To Diversify Isotope Production on March 6th, 2013 at 10:00 am

    […] Chalk River shutdown caused worldwide shortages of medical isotopes, as we reported at the time. There are no U.S. suppliers. The American Medical Isotope Production Act of 2011, which was […]