ENEA patents device to produce radiopharmaceuticals with nuclear fusion

ENEA (Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development) researchers from the laboratories of Brasimone (Bologna) and Casaccia (Rome) have patented a device that allows to increase the yield of the production process of radiopharmaceuticals for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other diseases. It is a method based essentially on an environmentally friendly nuclear fusion process, an alternative to that used to produce radioisotopes for nuclear medicine in fission reactors.

“The device we have patented is based on a nuclear fusion process that is absolutely safe and easily obtainable without requiring the licenses of a nuclear fission reactor,” points out Pietro Agostini, director of ENEA’s Experimental Engineering Division. “The patent makes it possible to optimize the efficiency of the activity of short half-life radioisotopes[1], which bound to appropriate biological molecules can be used as radiopharmaceuticals,” adds Marco Capogni, researcher at the ENEA Department of Fusion and Nuclear Safety Technologies.

The optimization of a sample-target to be irradiated with fast neutrons, obtained from nuclear fusion processes of Deuterium-Tritium, allows to maximize the yield in activity of radioactive isotopes with short half-life that are of particular interest in nuclear medicine. Among these radioisotopes plays a peculiar role the metastable technetium-99 (99mTc), used in nuclear medicine for the diagnosis of many diseases with SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography) scans.

“Metastable technetium-99 is obtained by decay of its precursor, molybdenum-99 (99Mo). In addition to decaying less rapidly over time than technetium, molybdenum is so far only produced through nuclear reactors,” Capogni explains. “The antiquity of many of these plants, with the consequent long periods of shutdown for safety checks, caused a worldwide 99Mo crisis in 2009 and therefore a severe shortage of 99mTc, a fact that has put the entire SPECT diagnostics sector in extreme discomfort,” Capogni continues.

ENEA has succeeded in experimenting an alternative way to nuclear reactors for the production of molybdenum-99 thanks to facilities such as the Frascati Neutron Generator (FNG) in the Frascati Research Center and the facilities for activity measurements with high metrological standards of the National Institute of Ionizing Radiation Metrology (INMRI) in the Casaccia Research Center. In addition to these facilities, there is the SORGENTINA RF at the ENEA Research Center in Brasimone, the first prototype machine to engineer a production technology that will serve as a demonstrator in the production of radionuclides such as metastable technetium-99, with which about 30 million SPECT diagnoses are performed each year for an estimated value of eight billion dollars.

“The patent that is tied to the SORGENTINA RF project aims to address the need to increase the productivity of radioisotope by proposing a solution that currently aids and in the future could present itself as an alternative to nuclear fission reactors. In particular, the innovation of the patent consists in the realization of a sample-target suitable to intercept the highest fraction of fast neutrons, which will be available with the new plant, and in an effective way that is without being degraded in energy and attenuated in intensity,” concludes Capogni.

For information:
Marco Capogni, ENEA – Sezione Radioattività dell’Istituto Nazionale di Metrologia delle Radiazioni Ionizzanti, [email protected]
Pietro Agostini, ENEA – Divisione Ingegneria Sperimentale, [email protected]


Source ENEA the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development