New IAEA Publication to Help Optimize Radionuclide Production for Cancer Treatments

A recent IAEA publication, Cyclotron Produced Radionuclides: Emerging Positron Emitters for Medical Applications: 64Cu and 124I, aims to help operators of cyclotron particle accelerators comply with current global safety standards to develop radiopharmaceuticals for cancer diagnosis and treatment. The guide also outlines the cyclotron’s positron emission process, which uses the same computed tomography (PET/CT) technology to screen and monitor diseases such as cancer.

“As the number of medical procedures needing radiopharmaceuticals continues to grow, it is crucial that radionuclide production stays efficient,” said Uday Bhonsle, an IAEA radiopharmaceutical scientist. “This guide aims to help cyclotron operators follow new international standards of quality control to develop two emerging PET isotopes used to diagnose and treat cancer — copper-64 (64Cu) and iodine-124 (124I).” 

Radiopharmaceuticals are drugs that contain radioactive materials called radioisotopes. They can be administered either intravenously or orally to image organ functions, using small doses with very low, non-invasive radiation that is safe and can precisely detect disease or in some cases can be used to kill malignant cells for therapeutic purposes. While historically radionuclides have been manufactured primarily in research reactors, many are recently being produced by cyclotrons. 

This guide will be a reliable reference for nuclear medicine physicians, physicists, and chemists, as well as pharmacists and drug regulators involved in radionuclide production and approval processes, Bhonsle added. 

Using cyclotrons to produce radioisotopes

Radioisotopes have contributed to improved health care in nearly all countries due to their safe and effective approach to cancer treatment. A radionuclide (or radioactive isotope) is an atom with excess energy that can occur naturally or be created artificially. This is sometimes done by bombarding a stable isotope with charged particles emitted from a cyclotron, a special kind of particle accelerator that uses static electricity to guide and charge particles along a spiral path before they target a material object such as a metal-coated plate.

The publication focuses on how to prepare these material objects more efficiently to transform stable isotopes into medically useful radioisotopes that can be used to develop radiopharmaceuticals.

Both 64Cu and 124I radionuclides are currently produced by cyclotrons in many IAEA Member States as a result of a recent IAEA research project, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey and the United States of America. “More Member States are expressing interest as these radionuclides become easier to produce,” said Amirreza Jalilian, an IAEA radioisotope and radiopharmaceutical chemist familiar with this guide.

This guide would be a reliable reference for nuclear medicine physicians, physicists, and chemists, as well as pharmacists and drug regulators involved in radionuclide production and approval processes.
Uday Bhonsle, radiopharmaceutical scientist at the IAEA

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Last update: 18 March 2016