A commercial nuclear reactor is producing the medical isotope lutetium-177 for the first time
In depth - September 13, 2022

A commercial nuclear reactor is producing the medical isotope lutetium-177 for the first time

For the first time in history, the isotope lutetium-177 has been produced in a commercial nuclear reactor via the new Isotope Production System (IPS). This took place in unit 7 of the Bruce nuclear power plant in Ontario, Canada.

The project is a collaboration of several international companies such as Bruce Power (operator of the Bruce nuclear power plant), Isogen (a joint company with Kinectrics in Canada and Framatome in France) and ITM Isotope Technologies Muchic SE in Germany, and it is finally over. The lutetium-177 (Lu-177) isotope was generated through a new IPS installed in unit 7 of the Bruce nuclear power plant in Ontario, Canada. This unit is a CANDU type (a pressurized heavy water reactor that uses natural uranium). It is the first time that this isotope with a short half-life is produced in a commercial reactor to be applied to medicine.

Nuclear medicine and ionizing radiations
Nuclear medicine and ionizing radiations

Lutetium-177 is often used in medicine, especially in precision oncology for a growing number of different types of cancer

Treatments based on lutetium-177 are designed to attack malignant cells with precision without affecting surrounding healthy tissues. These are highly efficient non-invasive treatments, used in therapy with targeted radionuclides to treat cancers such as neuroendocrine tumours and prostate cancer.

The project's goal is using CANDU nuclear reactors to produce medical isotopes necessary for the diagnosis and treatment of patients with serious conditions around the world

With the first Lu-177 already produced at this site, the activities will be finalized in the next few months, and commercial operation will be resumed whilst waiting for the final regulatory review and approval from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

ITM Isotope Technologies Munich SE (Germany) will receive exclusive access to the radiation service through this technique to produce Lu-177, which will further expand its large-scale production capabilities for hospitals around the world, global partners and ITM's own clinical portfolio of radiopharmaceuticals for cancers that are difficult to treat.

Bruce Power will be marketing the new isotope supply in cooperation with the Canadian region of Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON).

"Bruce Power and our partners at Isogen, ITM and Saugeen Ojibway Nation are thrilled to have reached this exciting milestone, bringing our partnership project to its final phase as we complete commissioning and approach commercial operations," said James Scongack, Bruce Power's chief development officer. "Today's announcement is the culmination of years of hard work by hundreds of dedicated people, and we are proud to demonstrate the power of using Bruce Power's Candu reactors to provide large-scale, reliable production of critical medical isotopes to use in the fight against cancer," he added.

In June 2018, Bruce Power and ITG - a subsidiary of ITM - signed a Memorandum of Understanding to explore the production of Lu-177 at Bruce, which they said has the ability to meet global supply needs until 2064. The company is part of the Canadian Nuclear Isotope Council, whose goal is to develop collective solutions to maintain Canada's leadership in the global isotope market.


Nuclear medicine

Isotope Lu-177 is only one of the many various types used for diagnostic and therapeutic applications. Their selection is conditioned by the fact that they cannot be toxic, and that they need to have the right radioactive emission, low energy and a short half-life so that the dose absorbed is small.

The elimination of isotopes from the human body must be quick so that they have a short permanence in the human body

To conduct studies on patients, a pure radionuclide is used. It is targeted to the organ to explore, as is the case of radioiodine in the thyroid gland; alternatively, different molecules with large tropism may be marked for the organ to be analyzed, such as the colloids marked for hepatic studies or phosphates marked for bone studies. In these cases, they are radiopharmaceuticals.

In spite of the many existing examples, the isotope most used currently in nuclear medicine services is the metastable technetium-99. It emits gamma radiation and has a six hour half-life, which requires generators: shielded recipients usually received every week at the nuclear medicine services in hospitals, containing a parent isotope (molybdenum-99, with a longer half-life.) This isotope is used to obtain the daughter isotope (technetium-99), which is applied daily for examinations.


Currently, the most used isotope in nuclear medicine services is the metastable technetium-99

Technetium is easily combined with carrier molecules, which make it possible to study different organs such as the skeleton, heart, liver, spleen, bile ducts, digestive tract and brain.

Besides technetium other gamma emitters with a short half-life are used: thallium-201 for heart studies, gallium-67 to detect tumors, indium-111 for inflammatory processes, iodine-131 and 123 for thyroid and kidney studies and xenon-133 for lung studies.

Another example can be seen in therapeutic applications known as metabolic therapy, where iodine-131 is used to treat patients with thyroid cancer or hyperthyroidism. In this case, the doses administered are much larger than in diagnostic applications, which makes it necessary for the patient to remain in the hospital for a few days.

Sources: World Nuclear News, Foro Nuclear

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