Lab Canada

Researchers from Sherbrooke produce technetium 99m with a cyclotron

Sherbrooke, QC – Researchers at the CHUS’s Centre de recherche clinique Étienne-Le Bel (CRCELB) and the Université de Sherbrooke, in collaboration with Advanced Cyclotron Systems in Vancouver, have demonstrated that technetium 99m can be produced using a cyclotron. Diagnostic testing indicates that cyclotron-produced technetium 99m is fully equivalent to that obtained from nuclear reactor, such as the Chalk River facility.

The team at the Molecular Imaging Center of Sherbrooke (CIMS), under the direction of Drs Brigitte Guérin and Johan van Lier, has demonstrated that three of the technetium 99m radiopharmaceuticals most commonly used in nuclear medicine for diagnostic purposes yield exactly the same results, whether produced in a cyclotron or a nuclear reactor.

“The next step is to optimize production to yield technetium 99m in quantities sufficient to meet the daily demand of local hospitals,” says Dr van Lier. “Moreover, we intend to acquire a second high-energy cyclotron, which would enable us to secure the supply of medical isotopes and provide for a backup supply of technetium 99m for a large part of the province of Quebec.”

The CHUS currently uses an average of 10 000 millicuries of technetium per week.

The report of the expert review panel appointed by Natural Resources Canada recommended supporting research and development programs for the direct production of technetium 99m with cyclotrons. According to the experts, “the cyclotron option would be an important means by which to ensure security of supply over the long term because it would build in all of the elements needed for security – capacity, redundancy, and diversity.”

Dr Guérin observed that “we have the expertise and knowledge to pursue research and development into cyclotron-based production of technetium 99m. A minimum investment, compared to the costs associated with nuclear reactors, would enable us to immediately play a major role in implementing this novel approach.”

Repeated shutdowns of the aging nuclear reactors in Chalk River (Canada) and Petten (Netherlands) have caused the current worldwide shortage of technetium 99m. The fact that these two facilities produce 70% of the world’s supply underscores the urgency of diversifying sources of medical isotopes, the researchers say. “A National Cyclotron Network would meet all of Canada’s medical isotopes needs, while ensuring supply-chain redundancy and flexibility” says Richard Eppich, CEO of Advanced Cyclotron Systems.

As Dr van Lier firmly stated, “The cyclotron is a proven, safe technology that offers many tangible advantages,” says Dr van Lier. “Cyclotron production of radioisotopes does not require highly enriched weapons grade uranium-used in today’s nuclear reactors-and does not generate nuclear waste. Indeed, it constitutes a solution that is sustainable and clearly more ecologically sound.”