Canada’s hospitals are on the verge of having a local supply of isotopes for medical imaging thanks to a new development by an innovative team of researchers focused on preventing future isotope shortages.
The medical radioisotope technetium 99m (99mTC) is the world standard for medical imaging to diagnose cancer and heart disease. Every day, 5,000 medical procedures in Canada and 70,000 worldwide depend on this isotope. But there is a looming shortage of 99mTC. The world’s biggest producer—the NRU nuclear reactor at Atomic Energy of Canada’s Chalk River Laboratories—is ceasing isotope production activity in 2016, prompting Canada to find an alternate source.
Enter Dr. Paul Schaffer and his multi-disciplinary team of researchers that boasts expertise in fields including physics, chemistry and nuclear medicine. With funding support from NSERC, CIHR and Natural Resources Canada, this team has developed breakthrough technology that uses medical cyclotrons already installed and operational in major hospitals across Canada. Their solution allows existing cyclotrons to produce enough 99mTC in just one night to meet the daily needs of most hospitals. Their innovation is safer than current technology because it eliminates the need use weapons-grade radioactive uranium, which is currently shipped across international borders to produce 99mTC. Hospitals also save money by producing their isotopes locally under a full-cost recovery model.
The project resulted in over a dozen scientific publications, several provisional patents and a training opportunity for more than 175 students.
The research team is working with a Canadian start-up company to license, transfer and sell this technology around the world. This will allow hospitals and companies with cyclotrons to retrofit their existing infrastructure with a made-in-Canada solution to produce this value material in the event of another isotope crisis. Now, the research team is focused on working with the world’s major cyclotron manufacturers to add factory-supported 99mTC production capability to their existing product lines so the technology will become standard in future machines.
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