General Atomics has a long history of leveraging advanced research for medical applications ranging from magnetic resonance imaging to sterilization technology. GA is now working toward advancing the state of the art in nuclear medicine and ensuring physicians and hospitals continue to have a safe, reliable source of medical radioisotopes.
More than 40 million nuclear medicine procedures are performed each year, and the large majority of them depend on a single isotope: Technetium-99m (Tc-99m). Tc-99m is a vital component of single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), which physicians rely on for a wide variety of diagnostic procedures, such as cardiac, brain, and kidney scans. Tc-99m is produced on-site in hospitals and other medical facilities from radioactive decay of Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), which is a short-lived fission product of Uranium-235.
Because of their short half-lives, neither Tc-99m nor Mo-99 can be stockpiled, and the nuclear medicine industry requires a continually operating Mo-99 supply chain to meet its needs. Currently, nearly all Mo-99 used in nuclear medicine is manufactured in a few aging reactors that are beginning to reach their end-of-life and shut down. Worse, this manufacturing process requires highly enriched uranium (HEU), which raises concerns of nuclear proliferation.
GA has developed a unique proprietary method, selective gaseous extraction (SGE), that produces Mo-99 of the highest specific activity without requiring HEU and without generating liquid uranium processing waste, a significant problem with current approaches. The SGE process, an outgrowth of GA's decades of work on gas-cooled reactors, is a proven technology that requires no new infrastructure and will work efficiently with existing Mo-99 distribution.
GA is working with Nordion and the University of Missouri Research Reactor (MURR) to bring this process to market and secure a safe, dependable domestic supply of Mo-99. The license to begin production is currently pending with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and commercial distribution is expected by the end of 2018.
For more information GA's medical isotopes program, please contact Bob Buckingham, Group Leader, Radiochemical Engineering.