Global supplies of a radioisotope vital in diagnosing disease have plummeted because of a fragile and aging supply chain, report nuclear medicine specialists today. The shortage leaves doctors with few alternatives to spot life-threatening conditions and keeps patients waiting for appropriate treatment.
“The recent supply disruptions at the end of 2008 and early 2009 have adversely affected patient services in many countries including the UK, the majority of Europe, the USA and Canada and beyond,” write Alan Perkins and Gill Vivian in Nuclear Medicine Communications.
The situation looks set to worsen over the next month, say experts, and the problem will exist for at least five years down the line.
Technetium 99m is a radioisotope derived from the element molybdenum
. It is used in tests that diagnose heart disease and cancer, and to assess the function of many organs. These tests are called ‘nuclear’ because they rely on small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose or treat diseases.
Diagnostic tests that use technetium 99m amount to 80% of the 40 million nuclear medical scan carried out each year worldwide. But the global supply of the radioisotope relies on just six nuclear reactors located in Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, South Africa, France, and Australia. All of the processing plants, excluding the Australian one, are more than 40 years old.