Researchers at the University of B.C. say they’ve averted a looming medical isotope shortage by proving they can produce enough of the chemical element used in life-saving cardiac and cancer scans to stop using nuclear plants.
The breakthrough research means aging nuclear power plants — plagued with leaks, high maintenance costs and problems disposing toxic waste — will likely be replaced with cyclotrons, a particle accelerator the size of an SUV, in hospitals starting as early as next year.
A team including UBC scientists has been working on finding a solution for more than five years, and TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, announced last year that it had found an alternative by using cyclotron-based production of isotopes.
Now UBC says the cyclotron has produced enough isotopes in six hours to conduct about 500 scans — beating the previous record almost fourfold. It was the amount needed to prove that this could be a practical solution for the looming national threat of a medical isotope shortage.
The aging National Research Universal Reactor near Chalk River, Ont., is set to retire in 2016. It produces the country’s main source of medical isotopes, technetium 99m (Tc99m) — a diagnostic isotope used in medical scans.
Cyclotron-based production of Tc99m would provide a solution to shift away from reactor based production of isotopes, while providing a safe and secure supply for Canadian patients, the researchers say.
The Latest on: Medical isotopes
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The Latest on: Medical isotopes
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