Dutch research reactor adapted to produce molybdenum-99 for cancer diagnostics

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.

Diagnostic tool

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.


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