A challenging future for the medical radioisotope


5th Symposium on Medical Radioisotopes 2015-2020

On 5 May, the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre hosted the 5th Symposium on Medical Radioisotopes 2015-2020. Some hundred Belgian and European experts discussed the latest developments and challenges. What makes this symposium so unique is that it has brought together all stakeholders in the sector and that it underlines the crucial importance of radioisotopes, both for research purposes and to treat various disorders.

The Symposium on Medical Radioisotopes  is organised by the European Isotope Transport Association (ATF), Isotopes Services International (ISI) and the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre. Producers, distributors, competent authorities, researchers and doctors spent the whole day discussing the major challenges and opportunities the sector will be faced with over the next five years.

The starting point was the first indispensable link in the chain: the production of medical radioisotopes. Experts pointed to Belgium's leading international role over the last 50 years thanks to the BR2 research reactor of SCK•CEN. Every year, BR2 supplies as much as 25% of the worldwide demand for radioisotopes for medical imaging and the treatment of particular cancers. Worldwide, approximately 6 million studies are carried out every year using molybdenum-99 produced in Belgium.

But before doctors are able to work with these radioisotopes, a whole series of challenges first need to be overcome in the field of transport and distribution. The extremely short half-life of these medical radioisotopes means that speed is of the essence. But safety and transparency in the entire distribution process need to be completely in order in the context of Good Distribution Practices (GDP). A pioneer on an international level, Brussels Airport mapped and optimised the entire transport process of sensitive pharmaceutical products and isotopes, as well as trained people. In addition, the airport's infrastructure was specifically designed for radiopharmaceuticals.

The experts gathered in Mol also discussed the latest developments in medical imaging and nuclear medicine. In diagnosis, an increasing number of radiolabelled products are used for a more precise image of the disorder and to determine the most suitable treatment for the patient. Research in the field of therapies is also moving forward significantly, and the road is open to bespoke therapies. "This progress is essential for patients and the future of our health care", concludes Eric van Walle, Director-General of the SCK•CEN. "This is why it is essential to hang on to this Belgian know-how and expertise and to develop it further."

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BR2 reactor in operation