Senate Passes Bill to Promote Domestic Isotope Production

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The U.S. Senate passed a bill designed to address the shortage of medical isotopes used in the vast majority of nuclear medicine scans.

The bill, known as the American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2011, passed the Senate in November and now awaits action in the House of Representatives. It would allow the Department of Energy to partner with U.S. companies to produce a reliable domestic supply of Technetium-99 primarily used to detect cancers and heart disease.

A shortage of medical isotopes arose in 2009 and 2010 as hospitals and commercial imaging groups were forced to import most of their supplies of the material from aging reactors in Canada and Europe. The isotopes are currently produced as a by-product of nuclear energy from highly-enriched uranium, which newer reactors typically do not use anymore. As a result, the U.S. hasn't produced it's own isotopes since 1989.

Roughly 16 million people each year undergo medical imaging procedures using the isotopes. New techniques may allow scientists to produce the isotopes from low-enriched uranium, which is less dangerous. Companies in South Africa and Australia have already begun to do this, according to an article in the The Journal of Nuclear Medicine published on-line today.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Senate) said the bill would provide a reliable supply of nuclear medical isotopes.

“The isotope shortages that the medical community and patients experienced in 2009 and 2010 certainly brought attention to this important issue. While imports, at the moment, are meeting our growing demand, the stability and long-term viability of that supply remain in question,” she said in a press release. “It’s critical that we develop our own reliable supply of nuclear medical isotopes to ensure that we can continue to provide the highest standard of medical care.”

For the full text of the bill click here.