Idaho State University's (ISU) Idaho Accelerator Center is experimenting with the use of nuclear accelerators, as opposed to nuclear reactors, to produce medical isotopes used in medical imaging and treatment procedures.
The Idaho Accelerator Center researchers said that about 20 million medical imaging and treatment procedures are done annually in the United States. If the ISU researchers are successful, southeast Idaho could potentially produce medical isotopes commercially to supplement other medical isotope sources, reported Idaho Business News.
The announcement of the new research pursuit comes on the heels of a report published in the January issue of Nature, in which researchers suggested that using accelerators, not nuclear reactors, for medical isotope production could alleviate the global concern over potential shortages.
"We are pursuing a new way of producing these isotopes that could have implications for the entire nation. If this works, we're hoping to grow a local isotope production business that could make southeast Idaho a hub for medical isotope production," said Doug Wells, director of the center.
Using nuclear accelerators, also known as atom smashers, to produce medical isotopes is considered an attractive alternative to producing isotopes using a nuclear reaction. Accelerators are safer and do not produce the nuclear waste and the security issues of transporting, storing and disposing of enriched uranium, according to the university's researchers.
"We've completed experiments to create medical isotopes with linear accelerators in the last couple of months that are highly encouraging," Wells said. "We're optimistic that we will be able to secure funding to continue this work and the private sector has expressed strong interest in the work we are doing."
ISU researchers are experimenting to produce molybdenum-99 and other medical isotopes used for a wide variety of diagnostic and treatment procedures.