Friday, 15 June 2012

Uncertainties shroud medical isotope supply

Another missed opportunity by the government, when they went against the recommendations of the Expert Panel, and decided against a multi-purpose reactor:
"It was not a milestone greeted with much fanfare, but the end of March marked the demise of the Non-reactor-based Isotope Supply Contribution Program (NISP), under which the federal government had sunk $35 million into four projects aimed at determining whether there was an alternative means of generating the technetium-99m needed for roughly 80% of the 1.5 million nuclear medicine procedures performed annually in Canada. 
The NISP was created in the aftermath of extended shutdowns of the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor in Chalk River, Ontario between 2007 and 2010. With hospitals scrambling to obtain medical isotopes in the wake of a global technetium shortage, a government-appointed Expert Review Panel on Medical Isotope Production was struck to investigate supply options for Canada and it recommended that more players be introduced to the medical isotope distribution chain, that the federal government work with other countries to better coordinate worldwide production and distribution of medical isotopes and that Canada eventually shift to making isotopes with low-enriched uranium targets and build a new multipurpose reactor ( The government’s response was to create the NISP to determine whether it would be best to develop a new method of producing isotopes — for example, by using cyclotrons — that utilized low-enriched uranium (
Most academic researchers regard the NISP as a rushed affair. But the four projects did at least confirm the technical feasibility of using particle accelerators to generate technetium-99m without using weapons-grade uranium. The Cross Cancer Centre in Edmonton, Alberta, launched a clinical trial in the fall of 2011 injecting patients with technetium-99m manufactured from an on-site cyclotron, while a team led by Tri-University Meson Facility at the University of British Columbia used the backdrop of annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science to laud its production of isotopes using a cyclotron as a “major milestone” in resolving the precarious global supply.
The launch of a new era for Canada’s 12 existing cyclotrons once the NRU is shut down permanently in 2016?
Well, perhaps.
The federal government responded somewhat tepidly to the developments by announcing in its recent budget that $17 million would be provided over two years for Natural Resources Canada “to further advance the development of alternatives to existing isotope production technologies and help secure the supply of medical isotopes for Canadians” (
The latter could almost mean anything, says Éric Turcotte, clinical head of the Sherbrooke Molecular Imaging Centre in Quebec.
“We don’t know what the government wants,” says Turcotte, a member of expert review panel. “They want a solution, but they don’t want it ready to go on the market. They just want the proof of concept. After that, there is no research proposed by them.”"

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