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At a special session at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a team led by TRIUMF announced the successful production of the key medical isotope technetium-99m on cyclotrons already available in Ontario and British Columbia. This development allows hospitals and clinics with existing cyclotrons to make the isotope traditionally only available from nuclear reactors. The team includes TRIUMF, BC Cancer Agency, Lawson Health Research Institute, and the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization.
Paul Schaffer, head of TRIUMF's Nuclear Medicine Division and one of the team leaders, said, "Making medical isotopes in hospitals instead of nuclear reactors is a major milestone for diagnostic imaging for patients in Canada and around the world. We took the principles of physics, chemistry, and engineering that people have known for years, and used them to write a recipe for upgrading a cyclotron so it could be used to make technetium-99m. We've just completed using that recipe on machines in both Ontario and BC."
Each year, tens of millions of medical procedures are conducted around the world with technetium-99m, an isotope used in radiopharmaceuticals for imaging disease in the heart, bones, and elsewhere in the body. Two ageing nuclear reactors produce about three quarters of the global supply; one of them is the NRU reactor in Chalk River. In the past few years, both reactors have suffered maintenance and repair outages, threatening the global supply of medical isotopes. The conventional technology with reactors also involves the use of highly enriched uranium.
Tom Ruth, senior scientist at TRIUMF and the BC Cancer Agency and principal investigator for the team said, "One of these cyclotrons can supply a metro area such as Vancouver and there are more than a dozen of these cyclotrons in hospitals across Canada. What we've shown is that a decentralized model for producing technetium is now possible. We are in discussions with several industrial partners and regional health authorities about how to start implementing this vision. The science and the technology are e