July 24, 2009
Crucial radioisotope in short supply
A world-wide shortage of a crucial radioisotope threatens to set back the quality of medical care several decades, U.S. doctors said.
Technetium-99m is used in more than 40,000 medical procedures in the United States each day. The isotope is key to tests for cancer, kidney function and cardiac disease.
A 51-year-old reactor in Ontario, Canada, has been idle since mid-May because of safety problems and may never reopen, The New York Times reported Friday. The other major supplier, a 47-year-old Dutch reactor at Petten, is closed for at least a month and it's future is uncertain.
This is a huge hit, said Dr. Michael M. Graham, president of the Society of Nuclear Medicine. Without adequate supplies of technetium-99m, the quality of medical care drops back to the 1960s, Graham said.
The White House is coordinating an effort to find new sources, while a bill introduced in Congress would authorize $163 million over five years to assure new production, the Times reported.