MU is the only university in the United States that has brought three FDA-approved radiopharmaceuticals to the market.

David Robertson, executive director at the MU Research Reactor, and his team are building on that success by researching how faculty across the UM system can develop radiopharmaceutical agents.

“The University of Missouri has a long history in helping the industry develop drugs that use radioactive isotopes to either diagnose or treat disease, mostly cancer,” Robertson said.

“Our project is to take advantage of the fact that we have the largest reactor at any university in the United States, and we’re kind of a sole source for these radioactive isotopes that are so effective in treating cancer; we want to take advantage of that uniqueness.”

Robertson and his colleagues are another research team from MU who received a grant from a $20.5 million investment from the UM System.

On Robertson’s team is Jeff Smith, a professor of radiology at the School of Medicine; Silvia Jurisson, a professor of chemistry and radiology at MU; Jeffrey Bryan, a professor of oncology at MU; and Tom Quinn, a professor of biochemistry at the College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources.

The total grant was $2 million. It required a $1 million cost match to get the $1 million from the system. The departments that committed to the cost match for the grant were the MU Research Reactor, the College of Veterinary Medicine, the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Medicine and the MU Office of Research, Robertson said.

Robertson and his team intend to set up a core facility so that researchers can test radioactive material to see if it has the right benefits for treating a disease.

“What we were funded for was to put together what’s called a radio pharmacology core where researchers can come into the building across the street from the reactor and test their ideas,” Robertson said.

“We need well-established procedures and very experienced people.”

The project was funded with the name Radiopharmacology Core, and it’s going to support the Radiopharmaceutical Sciences Institute on campus.

“We are just getting started buying all this equipment, and what the grant money has done is help us in the process of recruiting additional faculty, really outstanding faculty, to come to the University of Missouri to join this radiopharmaceutical sciences initiative,” Robertson said.

“The fact that the university has committed these funds has made it easier for us as we try to recruit outstanding faculty to join this team.”

The research reactor supplies a radioisotope for a drug that treats neuroendocrine tumors in the mid-gut. These tumors are associated with a type of pancreatic cancer that spreads throughout the abdomen.

Before the new radioactive drug was approved by the FDA, the survival rate from this from of pancreatic cancer was six to eight months with the best treatment.

The new drug uses a radioisotope that’s made only in the U.S. at MU’s Research Reactor and is available today to patients. The overall survival rate is now greater than five years, Robertson said.

“We like to say what we’re trying to do is help save people’s lives,” Robertson said.

“The results have been really promising, and this equipment will help us to develop drugs like this.”

Jeffrey Bryan is a coordinator for the team. He helps identify the equipment needed to expand the capabilities of radiopharmaceutical research on campus.

“We looked at the equipment resources on campus and what pieces were missing to coordinate a broad effort to really expand our ability to develop novel approaches to using radioactivity in this way,” Bryan said.

“Our goal is to develop new radioactive drugs to help us identify and treat disease, particularly in my case, cancer,” Bryan said. “Better than we currently are.”

The team is in the process of ordering new equipment that the grant will cover.

They are collecting the final quotes for ordering the cellular imaging equipment and analysis equipment.

This includes equipment seen in hospitals like a CT scanner, PET scanner and SPECT scanner.

Bryan is excited about the grant because it will allow research to improve human and animal health.

“We can offer better health care to the state,” Bryan said, “and hopefully we reduce the impact of a lot of the terrible diseases that people suffer from.”

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

  • General assignment reporter, fall 2019 Studying magazine journalism Reach me at, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

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