The Chalk River Laboratories have been at the forefront of health research on medical isotopes for decades. In medicine, radioactive isotopes are used in the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
Researchers at the Chalk River Laboratories are looking at better understanding targeted alpha-therapies and their use in cancer treatment.
For many years, the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor produced the most commonly used medical isotope
molybdenum-99 (Mo-99). Isotopes from NRU benefitted millions of people internationally each year – an amazing contribution to world health. However, the production of Mo-99 ceased in October 2016 and the NRU reactor was shut down permanently in March 2018.
Today, other producers around the world are supplying Mo-99 in sufficient quantities to meet demand. New producers have come online and new technologies have been developed to produce
Mo-99 by other means than a research reactor – for example by using accelerators or cyclotrons.
The next generation of medical isotopes
Canadian Nuclear Laboratories is currently working on the next generation of medical isotopes. Researchers at the Chalk River Laboratories are looking at better understanding targeted alpha-therapies and their use in cancer treatment. Targeted alpha-therapies use medical isotopes that are bound to a biomolecule which can target cancer cells directly without damaging surrounding areas. This promising area of research could change the way certain types of cancers are treated in the coming years.
The energy emitted by the isotope when inside a patient is detected by special cameras while the patient is being scanned. These scans essentially light up the organ and show how it is working rather than what it looks like. The branch of medicine and medical imaging that uses these isotopes is known as nuclear medicine.
Radioactive isotopes can be manufactured into drugs. Once injected into a patient, the drug will accumulate in a certain part of the body, such as a tumour. As the isotopes decay and release energy, that energy destroys the tumour.