Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Solving the medical isotope problem

One of the nice things about this year's Institute of Physics nuclear physics conference is that we have a few attendees from universities which don't usually send people.  It seems, perhaps, that nuclear physics activity in the UK is growing, or at least that some of the more applied nuclear physicists are joining in community events.

Yesterday, I attended two interesting talks by people form such non-traditional universities;  Huddersfield and Cambridge (nice to be able call Cambridge a non-traditional university).  Both speakers were concerned with performing simulations of nuclear reactions induced by small-scale low-energy particle accelerators in order to produce medical isotopes.  One of the most important medical isotopes is technetium-99m (Tc-99m).  It is normally produced by taking molybdenum-99 from nuclear reactors, and letting that decay to technetium-99m.  The "m" means that the technetium is in an excited state, and it decays by X-ray emission.  By preparing a suitable technetium compound that targets particular parts of the body when ingested, the position of the emitted X-rays can be measured.

Through various reasons, including unplanned reactor shut-downs, the worldwide production of Tc-99m has decreased markedly.  The groups at Cambridge and Huddersfield are looking at new, non-reactor-based ways of producing it, and indeed other medical radionuclides.

The picture associated with this post is from a poster presented by Naomi Ratcliffe, from Huddersfield, available from the Huddersfield website.  It relates to some of the simulations of neutron yields that she presented in her talk.