Isotope production facing critical shortage

Isotope production facing critical shortage

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Ed Yeates reportingUS hospitals are down to only one manufacturer of radioactive isotopes used to diagnose illnesses. Hospitals have had only two sources, but with one reactor in Canada now offline, the shortage is critical.

When physicians want to see circulatory patterns in the brain, heart or other organs, they often give patients a low dose radioactive isotope to produce clear cut images. But those isotopes, prepared in syringes by radiopharmacists, are in short supply. And it's only gotten worse as one reactor in Canada, one of only two sources, is currently shut down.

Colin Kelly Crebs, Director of Intermountain Radiopharmacy, said, "There's one pharmacy here in town that's operating probably on 10 percent. We're operating on about 25 percent."

Twenty five percent means that's all Intermountain Radiopharmacy at the University of Utah can prepare and send to local hospitals. For another pharmacy it's even worse. Castleview Hospital in Price got its last shipment in November, with no commitments when the next will come.

The isotope Utah radiopharmacists use begins at its European manufacturer as Molybdenum 99 with a half life of 66 hours. It arrives in Salt Lake within 48 hours. Before "Molly", as it's called, fades away, a radioactive daughter called Technetium spins off with a half life of only six hours. Technetium is ideal for imaging since it has no bad components and has little or no effect on tissue or organs.

Radiopharmacists call the shortage unfortunate and expensive. Crebs says, "They're talking about a 40 percent price increase as of January 1, which is a big price increase."

Former University of Utah radiation analyst Ray Jones says the shortage "is a travesty for patients who need this kind of imaging." And it's all, he says, because the U.S. closed its one and only medical reactor in the late 70's.

Canada was scheduled to bring more reactors online to meet the demand, but those plans have been sitting in limbo for some time now.

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