TU Delft to help cancer patients
TU Delft’s nuclear research reactor will be used as a back-up facility for the production of the radioactive isotope molybdenum-99, when supplies run out. Molybdenum-99 is widely used in hospitals in order to locate cancer. The substance is regularly in short supply because there are only five large commercial producers worldwide, and they all produce using older reactors. TU Delft announced earlier this year that its reactor could act as back-up facility when supplies run out. The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport has accepted this offer and asked the university to adapt its reactor for the production of this isotope.
Security of supply
Medical isotopes are widely used in hospitals to help diagnose diseases, particularly cancer. Because there are only five commercial producers worldwide, and these use older reactors, ensuring an adequate and secure supply of medical isotopes has become a problem in recent years. In the future, TU Delft’s nuclear research reactor will be used as a back-up facility for the high flux reactor in Petten. The reactor in Delft will be capable of supplying the weekly demand for molybdenum-99 in the Netherlands. However, supplies of the isotopes produced in the Netherlands will not necessarily have to be used in the Netherlands.
Molybdenum-99 is used in the pharmaceutical industry to produce ‘molybdenum-99 / technetium-99m generator’. When a doctor suspects that a patient is suffering from a tumour, he/she will inject technetium-99m from the generator into the patient, together with certain substances that will attach themselves to that type of tumour. The technetium-99m emits photons (gamma radiation) which are then detected by special equipment outside the body. In this way, it is possible to make an image of the tumour and thereby locate the tumour within the body. This is essential in order to provide the optimum treatment.
Adaption of the reactor
The Delft research reactor will now be adapted so that it can start to produce molybdenum-99. As soon as safety standards have been met and approved, the reactor will be able to produce molybdenum when required. ‘The Reactor Institute Delft wishes to improve the care for cancer patients by helping to ensure that there are sufficient supplies of isotopes for medical use,’ says Prof. Tim van der Hagen, director of the Reactor Institute Delft.
Reactor Institute Delft
TU Delft’s research reactor is used for scientific research in the fields of health, energy and materials. The Oyster Programme (which stands for ‘Optimised Yield – for Science, Technology & Education – of Radiation’) will enable the reactor to meet new scientific challenges and respond to societal issues even more accurately and flexibly. The production for molybdenum-99 is a good example of this. The programme will enable the production of molybdenum to be increased because it will make more neutrons available.