MU to build new facility to produce uncommon isotopes

Wednesday, November 6, 2013 | 5:46 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Patients concerned with a potential shortage of isotopes that play a key role in medical imaging tests can look forward to MU providing relief.

MU signed a deal with Global PET Imaging LLC to build a facility capable of processing Rubidium-82. The radioisotope is an active ingredient in a test that often determines whether a patient needs surgery following medical emergencies like heart attacks.

Few facilities are capable of processing this isotope, so it could be in danger of shortage in the near future, according to a news release from the MU News Bureau. At this time, the government is the only producer of  Rubidium-82 in the U.S., said Steve Wyatt, MU vice provost for economic development.

"Currently, the government is the domestic producer of this isotope," Wyatt said. "That is why MU is collaborating with Global PET to produce more Rubidium-82 to meet the demand."

Rod D. Martin, executive chairman of Global PET Imaging LLC, said there are roughly 170 to 180 operational PET scanners in the United States. Martin said there is potentially enough demand for as many as 1,500 to 2,000 PET scanners. However, there is only enough of the isotope available to use in 230 to 250 scanners.

"Compared to what should be, there is a tremendous shortage," Martin said.

A PET scanner is a nuclear imaging machine that produces a three-dimensional image of a human body.

According to the agreement, Global PET Imaging LLC will construct a facility to house a 70 million electron volt cyclotron at MU's Discovery Ridge. The cyclotron will be purchased and installed after the facility's construction.

A cyclotron is a circular, race-track like machine through which researchers shoot subatomic particles. The particles collide with one another, causing different reactions and forming new elements from old ones, creating isotopes such as Rubidium-82. Martin likened the machine's shape to a doughnut and each atom to a sprinkle.

Although Martin said there is no exact total for how much money the project will cost, he estimates it will be at least $20 million.

The isotopes produced at the MU facility will be sent around the nation to different hospitals for medical use, Wyatt said. MU will also have access to the facility for other research purposes.

MU spokesman Christian Basi said the university might find additional uses for the isotope being produced and will look to explore those uses in the future.

While no exact dates have been set yet, it is likely that construction will start in the next 12 to 18 months after the terms are finalized, Wyatt said.

"From the inception to full production, you could expect a three year time frame," he said. "This project requires several regulatory steps."

Columbia was chosen as the site for the future facility because of MU's extensive work with the Research Reactor Center, Wyatt said.

The Research Reactor Center already produces several isotopes used for medical applications. In some cases, MU is the only supplier of these isotopes in the world, Basi said.

The only other company looking to build a similar facility is Zevacor Molecular, which announced Nov. 4 the purchase of its own 70 million electron volt cyclotron dedicated to medical use, the first purchase of this kind. The location of Zevacor Molecular's cyclotron will likely be announced before the end of 2013.

Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.

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