[ RadSafe ] U.S. company strikes deal with Poland for isotope used in medical tests

Doug Huffman doug.huffman at wildblue.net
Wed Feb 17 20:17:14 CST 2010



U.S. company strikes deal with Poland for isotope used in medical tests
February 17, 2010 By Thomas H. Maugh II

As U.S. physicians face an impending crisis caused by lack of a crucial 
isotope used in many diagnostic procedures, a U.S. company said 
Wednesday that it had reached an agreement with the Polish nuclear 
energy agency to obtain the isotope from a reactor in that country.

Covidien, a St. Louis company that processes a radioisotope produced by 
reactors into a form that can be used in the medical tests, said that 
Poland's Institute of Atomic Energy will provide enough molybdenum-99 
from the agency's Maria Research Reactor to meet the needs of about 1 
million patients annually.

That is not nearly enough of the isotope to replace the shortage 
resulting from the shutdown of the two primary reactors that produce the 
element, but experts said it is enough to allow radiologists to keep 
performing some tests rather than shutting down.

"This is only a short-term fix to a long-term problem," said Robert W. 
Atcher, who heads a task force of SNM, formerly the Society of Nuclear 
Medicine, looking at ways to alleviate the shortage.

Molybdenum-99 is a short-lived radioisotope that breaks down into 
technetium-99m (the m stands for metastable) -- the form that is used in 
medical tests. With a half-life of only six hours, the isotope allows 
physicians to examine blood flow and bones and identify tumors before 
quickly disappearing from the body, thereby minimizing radiation dose.

When supplies of technetium-99m are adequate, about 55,000 Americans 
every day and tens of thousands in the rest of the world undergo such 
tests. But the isotope is produced primarily in five reactors around the 
world, all of them over the age of 45 and none in the United States.

Canada's National Research Universal reactor in Chalk River has been 
shut down since last May because of tritium leaks and other problems and 
is not expected to reopen before April. A second major reactor, in 
Petten, the Netherlands, will close Friday for four to six months of 
scheduled maintenance. The two reactors account for about two-thirds of 
the technetium-99m used in the United States.

Because the radioisotope decays so fast, it cannot be stockpiled. As a 
consequence, technicians are scheduling tests at all hours of the day 
and night whenever they receive a supply. Many are also resorting to 
older, less efficient tests that have seen only limited use in the last 
20 years.

Covidien said a test run was conducted last week at the Maria reactor -- 
named after Polish nuclear physicist Maria Skladowsky Curie -- and the 
product is now being processed into technetium-99m at one of Covidien's 
European facilities. The company said it should begin distributing 
technetium-99m to European customers within 30 days.

But some complications remain. Among other things, the U.S. Food and 
Drug Administration must also test the finished product before it can be 
used in this country.

(c) 2010, Los Angeles Times.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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