Producing radioisotopes for medical imaging, disease treatment

“Two patients underwent these treatments and they were cured,” said Cathy Cutler, director of the Medical Isotope Research and Production Program at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. “Their cancer was gone.

This is what we want to do — supply this material so that more patients can get this treatment,” she said.

The material is a molecule tagged with Actinium-225, a radioactive isotope. When designed to specifically bind with a protein on the surface of cancer cells, the radiolabeled molecule delivers a lethal, localized punch — alpha particles that kill the cancer with minimal damage to surrounding tissues.

Actinium-225 can only be produced in the large quantities needed to support clinical applications at facilities that have high-energy particle accelerators.

“This is why I came to Brookhaven,” Cutler said in a recent talk she gave to highlight her group’s work. “We can make these alpha emitters and this is really giving doctors a chance to treat these patients!”

Radiochemistry redux

Brookhaven Lab and the Department of Energy Isotope Program have a long history of developing radioisotopes for uses in medicine and other applications. These radioactive forms of chemical elements can be used alone or attached to a variety of molecules to track and target disease.

“If it wasn’t for the U.S. Department of Energy and its isotope development program, I’m not sure we’d have nuclear medicine,” Cutler said.

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