Jan 24, 2011 - Lawson Health Research Institute Receives Funding to Develop Non-Reactor Based Isotopes

Jan 24, 2011 - Lawson Health Research Institute Receives Funding to Develop Non-Reactor Based Isotopes
Natural Resources Canada has awarded Dr. Michael Kovacs and Lawson Health Research Institute $1.5 million to develop technology for the production of the medical isotope Tc-99m using the Nordal Cyclotron & PET Radiochemistry Facility.

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January 24, 2011

LONDON, Ontario – Lawson Health Research Institute has been awarded approximately $1.5 million by Natural Resources Canada to develop the capability of producing Technetium-99m (Tc-99m). The intent is to produce the radioisotope on Lawson’s new medical cyclotron at the Nordal Cyclotron & PET Radiochemistry Facility in sufficient commercial quantities to supply London, Ontario and the surrounding area with this vital medical radioisotope.

Natural Resources Canada announced today that Lawson, together with Hamilton-based Centre for Probe Development & Commercialization  and Vancouver-based TRIUMF and the BC Cancer Agency, will receive a total of $6 million for the project entitled "A Collaborative Program for the Production of Tc-99m Using Medical Cyclotrons”.

Tc-99m is a short-lived radioactive tracer used in nuclear medicine for a wide variety of diagnostic tests.  However, supplies for medical use suffered severe interruptions when the nuclear reactors at the beginning of the supply chain ran into reliability issues.  Successful implementation of this project will help alleviate dependency on Canada’s NRU reactor located in Chalk River.

Lawson’s Dr. Michael Kovacs, Director of the Nordal Cyclotron & PET Radiochemistry Facility, says “With the aging NRU reactor reaching the end of its useful life, this project is a critical first step by the federal government to ensure a stable and highly diversified supply chain of Technetium-99m for Canadians.” 

According to project leader and senior research scientist at TRIUMF and the BC Cancer Agency, Dr. Thomas J. Ruth, “We believe this technology, based on existing cyclotrons, will enhance the reliability of medical-isotope supply for Canadians and, when we are successful, can be commercialized for sale in other countries.”

Funding for this program is through Natural Resources Canada's Non-reactor-based Isotope Supply Contribution Program, as part of the Government of Canada's intention to lay the groundwork for a more secure and sustainable supply of medical isotopes in the future.

SPECT/CT bone scan using Tc-99m-MDP: Scan shows the Tc-99m uptake in a benign bone tumour in a coronal slice of the human pelvisSPECT/CT bone scan using Tc-99m-MDP: Scan shows the Tc-99m uptake in a benign bone tumour in a coronal slice of the human pelvis


MDP:  methylene diphosphonate
SPECT:  Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography
CT:  Computed Tomography



A world-class group of scientists from the Lawson Health Research Institute, TRIUMF, the British Columbia Cancer Agency, and the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization have partnered to deliver an alternative technology for producing Technetium-99m (Tc-99m), the world’s most commonly used medical isotope. Recently, this isotope has been the subject of a world-wide shortage with the sudden and unexpected shutdown of the two highest capacity nuclear reactors (including Canada's NRU reactor in Chalk River, Ontario) capable of producing Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), an isotope that undergoes radioactive decay to produce Tc-99m. The team will be developing a long-known alternative of producing Tc-99m using particle accelerators called medical cyclotrons, that already exist in major hospitals throughout the country. By enabling regional hospitals to produce and distribute this lifesaving isotope to local clinics, widespread disruptions will be an issue of the past.

The team brings together physicists, nuclear chemists, radiochemists, pharmacologists, biologists, technicians and clinicians from across the country to answer the critical questions that remain to use this process at a large scale. The expertise of the team spans isotope production, cyclotron science and engineering, radiopharmaceutical manufacturing, quality assurance and control, regulatory affairs and commercialization.

The data collected will be used to allow future production sites to make informed decisions on the types of cyclotrons that are available commercially as well as the logistics associated with multiple production and clinical sites that serve small, medium and large patient populations.

The approach described above will ensure that arising technologies can quickly be implemented in all regions of the country, thereby supporting Canada’s universal and accessible approach to healthcare. It will also create new opportunities to export Canadian technologies globally across multiple business sectors and maintain Canada as an international leader in an emerging health technologies market.

By the completion of this project, the team will establish the operating parameters to produce Tc-99m on three different brands of medical cyclotrons at a commercial scale. Production and distribution of this most commonly used isotope from a regional supply hub will de-centralize the process, helping Canada avoid future isotope shortages. Canada’s medical and accelerator communities will benefit through the development and testing of high-powered targets, novel isotope separation and purification methods and a nuclear medicine community that has come together to develop a new radiopharmaceutical formulation. All of these benefits can be applied toward other medically-relevant radioisotopes.

The Role of Lawson

The goal of Lawson's research is to develop a method for producing Technetium-99m on its self-shielded medical cyclotron in sufficient commercial quantities to supply London, Ontario and the surrounding area.

Steps will include:

  • Irradiating the Mo-100 isotope in the cyclotron to produce Tc-99m
  • Transfering the Tc-99m to a hot cell for further processing
  • Purifying Tc-99m to GMP standards

There are several challenges that must be overcome prior to successfully executing this project including:

  • Collaborating with TRIUMF to design the target that will hold the Mo-100
  • Working with with the cyclotron vendor to increase the cyclotron beam output by as much as 60%
  • Collaborating with a second vendor to design an automated system to transfer the target from the cyclotron to the hot cell


Lawson Health Research Institute, located in London, Ontario, is one of Canada’s  largest and most respected hospital-based research institutes.  As the research arm of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care, London, and working in partnership    with The University of Western Ontario, Lawson is committed to furthering scientific knowledge to advance health care around the world. Its state-of-the-art, 6,000 sq. ft. Nordal Cyclotron & PET Radiochemistry Facility opened on March 31, 2010 and includes a GE PETtrace 8 cyclotron with proton and deuteron acceleration capability, class 100 shielded hot cells, and automated chemistry units for producing F-18 and C-11 radiopharmaceuticals – all to GMP specifications.

Lawson Imaging is considered one of the top integrated medical imaging programs in Canada. Its approach embraces all major imaging modalities, including PET, SPECT, CT, MRI, MRS, Optical, Ultrasound, Near-Infrared Spectroscopy, and Photoacoustics, and the hybrid imaging platforms of PET/CT, SPECT/CT and PET/EEG/MR. Lawson recently celebrated the grand opening of its new Nordal Cyclotron & PET Radiochemistry Facility, which now allows for the on-site production of Positron Emitting Radiopharmaceuticals for PET imaging. World-class research led by a team of 30 Scientists focuses on imaging technology development and applications in cardiology, oncology, neurology (including mental health) and metabolic diseases. External funding over the last five years has topped $45 million. The program also serves as a hospital-based centre for the training of approximately 75 graduate and undergraduate students, post-doctoral fellows, medical residents and technologists each year in the field of medical imaging.

For More Information:

Julia Capaldi
Communication Coordinator
Lawson Health Research Institute
519-646-6000 ext. 61098


Steven Foster
Business Manager, Lawson Imaging
Lawson Health Research Institute
519-646-6000 ext. 64648

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