The world is facing a shortage of the key medical isotope Technetium-99m (Tc-99m). More than 80% of the estimated 1.5 million nuclear medicine procedures performed annually in Canada use radiopharmaceuticals based on this isotope, which is currently produced using nuclear reactors.
Together with TRIUMF and other partners, the BC Cancer Agency (BCCA) has received a $1.3-million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to develop an alternative source of medical isotopes. The grant is part of a $5.4-million research program called Alternative Radiopharmaceuticals for Medical Imaging. The project will be led by co-principal investigators Dr. François Bénard, Scientific Director of the Centre of Excellence for Functional Cancer Imaging at the BC Cancer Agency, and Dr. Thomas J. Ruth, Senior Research Scientist at TRIUMF and Senior Scientist at the BC Cancer Agency. Dr. Bénard holds the BC Leadership Chair in Functional Cancer Imaging and is a professor of radiology at the University of British Columbia, as well as a principal investigator in the BCCA’s Department of Molecular Oncology.
BCCA, TRIUMF, and collaborators in Edmonton, Sherbrooke, and London, Ontario will collaborate on the two-year research project. The aim is to develop methods to produce technetium using cyclotrons instead of nuclear reactors. Conventional medical cyclotron machines are already being used to produce radioisotopes for many diagnostic procedures, and a cyclotron is currently under construction at the BC Cancer Agency, an initiative made possible through funding provided by the British Columbia Ministry of Health Services and the BC Cancer Foundation. The research team expects to initiate clinical studies to validate new production methods within two years.
“Finding alternatives to reactor produced medical isotopes is vital to staying ahead of the supply curve and meeting the health needs of patients,” said Dr. Bénard. “Producing technetium radioisotopes from cyclotrons could be a safe, reliable and cost-effective alternative to using material produced in nuclear reactors.”
Dr. Nigel Lockyer, TRIUMF Director, added, “we’re thrilled to be working with the leading cancer agency in Canada and some of the best minds in Canada on this research program. We each bring something unique to the table. Together, we will find solutions to this problem that will work for Canadians and even the world.”