Dutch research reactor adapted to produce molybdenum-99 for cancer
4 Oct 2010
The Technical University of Delft is adapting its nuclear
research reactor to be used as a back-up facility for the production of
the radioactive isotope molybdenum-99, when supplies run out.
Molybdenum-99 is widely used for cancer diagnostics (See MTB Europe
feature: Mo99 and Tc99m in personalized
medicine: easing the supply crisis). Mo-99 is regularly in short
supply because there are only five large commercial producers
worldwide, and these all have old reactors which are often affected
by breakdown and maintenance, restricting the worldwide supply. This
has become a significant problem in the last few years.
Security of supply
TU Delft announced earlier this year that its reactor could act as
back-up facility when supplies run out. The Dutch Ministry of
Health, Welfare and Sport accepted this offer and asked the
university to adapt its reactor to produce more neutrons for the
production of this isotope.
TU Delft’s nuclear research reactor will be used as a back-up
facility for the high flux reactor in Petten. The reactor in Delft
will be capable of supplying the weekly demand for molybdenum-99 in
the Netherlands. However, supplies of the isotopes produced in the
Netherlands will not necessarily have to be used in the Netherlands.
Molybdenum-99 is used to produce a ‘molybdenum-99 /
technetium-99m generator’. It is actually the technetium-99m from
the generator that is injected into the patient, together with
chemicals that attach themselves to the tumour. As technetium-99m
has a very short half life it cannot be transported from a supplier,
so it needs to be created in a clinic as needed from molybdenum-99,
which decays into Tc99m. The technetium-99m emits photons (gamma
radiation) which are then detected by diagnostic imaging. In this
way, it is possible to make an image of the tumour and thereby
locate the tumour within the body. This is essential in order to
provide the optimum treatment.
Adaption of the reactor
The Delft research reactor will now be adapted so that it can
start to produce molybdenum-99. As soon as safety standards have
been met and approved, the reactor will be able to produce
molybdenum when required. ‘The Reactor Institute Delft wishes to
improve the care for cancer patients by helping to ensure that there
are sufficient supplies of isotopes for medical use,’ says Prof. Tim
van der Hagen, director of the Reactor Institute Delft.