Isotope shortage evokes medical concerns

Aug. 22, 2010 at 10:58 AM
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BALTIMORE, Aug. 22 (UPI) -- U.S. doctors say they are concerned about a shortage of imported radioactive material used to diagnose heart conditions and other problems.

The Baltimore Sun reported the U.S. supply of technetium has been low for the past 15 months, ever since its main supplier, a Canadian nuclear reactor, shut down temporarily. That's left medical staff looking for alternatives to the workhorse isotope, which sometimes are more costly and are of lower quality.

The Sun said many medical operators in the field are calling for domestic production as well as development of other technology. Although back in operation, the Ontario reactor is aging and scheduled to go offline for good in 2016, the report said.

Technetium-99m is made from molybdenum-99, the Sun reported. A third of the world supply comes from the Chalk River reactor owned by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. The United States imports smaller quantities from the Netherlands and other sources.

The isotope is used in most of the nation's 20 million annual nuclear medicine procedures, the Sun said. Half of those tests involve cardiac imaging such as "stress tests."

Dr. Vasken Dilsizian, chief of the nuclear medicine division and director of cardiovascular nuclear medicine and PET imaging at the University of Maryland Medical Center, told the Sun: "There is a parallel to our concern about our dependence on foreign oil. Only, in this case the parent isotope has a short half-life, further limiting where we can get it from."

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