Canada moves closer to producing Tc-99m without reactor

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The Canadian Isotope Project, led by the Canadian Light Source (CLS) and the National Research Council of Canada, and medical researchers in Winnipeg, Ottawa and Toronto, is set to scale up its work to production levels for making medical isotopes with x-rays from a particle accelerator instead of a nuclear reactor, with the delivery of a new particle accelerator built by Ontario-based Mevex.

The project uses a particle accelerator to bombard a target made of molybdenum-100 metal with high-energy x-rays. The x-rays knock a neutron out of the nuclei of some of the molybdenum-100 atoms in the target, converting them to the isotope molybdenum-99 (Mo-99). After being chemically separated from the target, the Mo-99 will be shipped to hospitals where it decays into technetium-99m (Tc-99m).

Two or three accelerator systems like the one now being installed at the CLS could supply all of Canada's needs for Tc-99m.

Researchers at the National Research Council in Ottawa have been performing theoretical modeling of key aspects of the production process and producing small quantities of medical isotope using the same process that will be used at the CLS with a smaller particle accelerator. Isotopes produced by the facility at CLS will be chemically separated from the metal target by scientists at the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre and assessed by doctors at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and University Health Network in Toronto.

The Canadian Isotope Project was one of four projects funded by the government of Canada's Non-reactor-based Isotope Supply Contribution Program (NISP). The CLS-led project received $10 million from NISP with an additional $2 million from the Province of Saskatchewan. NISP was established to fund research into ways to produce medical isotopes without using a nuclear reactor in the wake of shortages caused by difficulties with Canada's NRU research reactor. The NISP projects are working to produce Tc-99m, which is used in approximately 5,500 medical scans daily in Canada.

Installation of the accelerator at the CLS is expected to be completed by the end of February, with the first experiments with the accelerator system taking place in April. The first batch of Tc-99m is anticipated to be ready for shipment for testing at the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre by the end of April or early May.