Radioactive isotope used to detect the spread of cancer will soon be manufactured in Janesville

Radioactive isotope used to detect the spread of cancer will soon be manufactured in Janesville

Nuclear medicine relies almost entirely on a radioactive isotope called molybdenum-99, also known as moly-99. But doctors and scientists warn of the possibility of a severe shortage.

Technetium, a byproduct of moly-99, is injected into a patient to target specific organs and allow doctors to see if cancer has spread, coronary artery disease is present, or diagnose disease of the gallbladder, lungs or other organs.

“If there’s a volcano erupting in Iceland, we can’t do this test,” said Tim Faulkes, a nuclear medicine technologist at SSM Health.

A natural disaster or any problem halting air travel could prevent the product from getting to the hospitals that need it.

“We’re getting it from South Africa and Belgium, and that means once a week, 747s stuffed with molybdenum-99 come from Europe to the United States,” said UW-Madison professor, Dr. Paul DeLuca. “It’s extremely expensive and hard to do the way we do it.”

Moly-99 has never been produced in the United States, but that could soon change.

SHINE Medical Technologies in Janesville is scheduled to break ground on its manufacturing plant this summer.

SHINE has struggled to stick to their construction deadlines in the past, but a representative said they will begin moving equipment into their testing facility at the end of January. This puts them on schedule to make moly-99 for commercial use by 2020.

The manufacturing plant will create the product in a whole new way, using a high-intensity neutron source instead of a nuclear reactor.

“Low and behold, this production of technetium and molybdenum-99 is using exactly that technology that I helped design and build 30 – 40 years ago,” said Dr. DeLuca.

DeLuca advised SHINE in the past. He said their machines are much more advanced than his was in 1971 and he expects them to be successful.

He said this form of production is easier and probably safer than using a nuclear reactor, which can be complicated and requires a lot of technical support.

“This exam is done tens of millions of times a year,” he said. “You can just imagine the impact of having a United States locally-produced source of that material – that’s a big deal. No question about it.”