Increasing Radiopharmaceutical Production with Cyclotrons

Increasing Radiopharmaceutical Production with Cyclotrons



Twelve years ago, Portugal’s University of Coimbra invested in the country’s first cyclotron, a particle accelerator to produce radioisotopes for medical drugs known as radiopharmaceuticals. Radiopharmaceuticals are critical in diagnosing and treating cancer as well as brain and cardiovascular diseases. The introduction of the machine meant radiopharmaceuticals could be produced domestically and also supply the region. Today, Portugal operates three cyclotrons — two in Coimbra and one in Porto — which provide life-saving radiopharmaceuticals to the Iberian Peninsula, the east of France and parts of North Africa.

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Twelve years ago, Portugal’s University of Coimbra invested in the country’s first cyclotron, a particle accelerator to produce radioisotopes for medical drugs known as radiopharmaceuticals. Radiopharmaceuticals are critical in diagnosing and treating cancer as well as brain and cardiovascular diseases. The introduction of the machine meant radiopharmaceuticals could be produced domestically and also supply the region. Today, Portugal operates three cyclotrons — two in Coimbra and one in Porto — which provide life-saving radiopharmaceuticals to the Iberian Peninsula, the east of France and parts of North Africa.

The expansion of cyclotron technology over the last decade is not a story unique to Portugal. There are now over 1,200 cyclotrons in operation worldwide, producing important radionuclides and increasing the availability of nuclear medicine — ultimately providing better and more effective diagnosis.

“Cyclotrons have changed the course of radiopharmaceuticals over the last 30 years,” said Amirreza Jalilian, a radioisotope and radiopharmaceutical chemist at the IAEA. Unlike nuclear research reactors, where radiopharmaceuticals have traditionally been produced, cyclotrons do not use a radioactive source, are easier to install and operate and can be set up directly in hospitals.

Globally, between 10 and 12 per cent of radiopharmaceuticals are produced in cyclotrons, but the demand for cyclotrons is increasing as more of the radionuclides they produce are used in research, diagnosis and treatment in a range of life-threatening diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s , Alzheimer’s and insomnia.

Jalilian is a co-author of a recently published IAEA report, Alternative Radionuclide Production with a Cyclotron, which lists a variety of radionuclides that can be produced with cyclotrons. The document complements the IAEA Database of Cyclotrons for Radionuclide Productionacting as an accessible catalog for policy makers, researchers, companies and students as well as technical experts to gain an overview of the types of radionuclides these machines can produce and how they are beneficial in nuclear medicine, patient care and treatment.

“In Portugal, our cyclotrons are paving the way for better diagnosis, treatment, research and development by providing a new direct way of producing some radionuclides such as gallium-68,” said Antero Abrunhosa, Director of the Institute for Nuclear Sciences plied to Health at the University of Coimbra. “We are actively involved in research and development to make sure we meet current and future demand for radionuclides and radiopharmaceuticals for diagnostic plications.”

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