The finding should generate excitement in medical facilities around the world
The solution to the global shortage in the supply of crucial medical isotopes – a scarcity pegged to problems at Ontario’s aging Chalk River nuclear reactor – may be lying in the basements of Canadian hospitals.
The 54-year-old facility, set to close in 2016, provides half the world’s supply of medical isotopes, including meeting most of North America’s demand.
But in what is being described as a medical breakthrough, a research team has come up with a way to adapt existing cyclotrons – particle accelerators – in Canadian hospitals and institutions so they can be used to produce technetium-99m. Until now, the key diagnostic isotope has been available only from nuclear reactors.
The development could alleviate the dearth of the radioactive isotope, which is used for the medical imaging of organs and in diagnosing breast, prostate and lung cancers, among other things.
Jane Aubin, chief scientific officer with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, said the finding should generate excitement in medical facilities around the world.
“It should be huge,” she said of the anticipated international reaction.
François Bénard, from the British Columbia Cancer Agency, said there are 13 cyclotrons in operation across the country and they could be retrofitted for as little as $500,000 each.
He said medical trials are needed to ensure the technetium-99m made in cyclotrons is of the same quality as that produced by the traditional supplier – Chalk River – and that could take up to two years. But retrofitting existing machines is relatively easy, he said, and Canadian hospitals could be capable of producing their own supply of the vital isotope within months.
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