Washington: A severe global shortage of
radioactive isotopes that enable life-saving medical scans may
make healthcare costlier and complicate, according to experts.
Medical isotopes are the tiny amounts of short-lived
radioactive substances that get injected into patients. They
then congregate within bone or other tissues, and show up as
lit areas in medical scans.
That method enables 20 million medical scans and other
treatments, such as targeting cancer cells for destruction,
each year. But, the recent shortages have forced physicians to
begin cutting back on the procedures.
"There has been some move away from nuclear medicine
procedures to other imaging technologies that involve more
radiation to the patient and higher cost," said Robert Atcher,
director of the National Isotope Development Centre under the
U S Department of Energy.
About 80 per cent of the nuclear medicine procedures
rely upon the isotope technetium-99m, which has a "half-life"
of just six hours. That means the radioactive substance decays
by 50 per cent every six hours until it vanishes, which makes
it impossible to stockpile, LiveScience reported.
The global shortage has been attributed to the sudden
shutdown of a nuclear reactor in Ontario, Canada, in May 2009.
The reactor produces a third of the world`s medical isotope
According to the experts, this left a shortfall
despite three reactors in Belgium, France and South Africa
stepping up their production.
"There still have been times in April, May and July
when their schedules were such that there was virtually no
material available," said Atcher.
"There has been a shift to an older isotope for
cardiac imaging, but we have exceeded our ability to produce
that one as well."
Supplies became even more strained when the High Flux
Reactor in the Netherlands went offline in February 2010,
according to Atcher, who presented a report on the shortage at
the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society
held this week.