India to boost radioisotopes production to meet rising demand for nuclear medicine

With number of nuclear medicines departments across the country registering over 100 per cent increase, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has laid out plans to gradually increase the production of therapeutic radio pharmaceuticals used in nuclear medicine for treatment of cancer and diagnosis of thyroid, kidney and heart related diseases.

In 2009, just over 150 hospitals had nuclear medicine department, whereas in 2018 the number increase to 293. Out of these only 14 per cent are in the government hospitals. The DAE revealed that along with the Board of Radiation and Isotope Technology (BRIT), it plans to increase the accessibility to nuclear medicine in the country.

Technetium 99 (T99) is the isotope used in diagnosis of diseases in the body. Technetium 99 generates ‘T99’ medicine obtained from Molybdenum 99 (radioactive material). T99 medicine has short shelf-life and hence needs to be imported. The radio-isotope helps in detecting, treating and destroying cancerous cells, but with the cases of cancer on the rise, it has been difficult to meet the increasing demand through imports.

In view of this, DAE along with BRIT has been working on increasing production of medically important radio isotopes such as Molybdenum-99, Iodine-125, Iodine-131, Samarium-153, Lutetium-177 using Dhruva reactor and Fluorine-18 using the medical cyclotron facility.

“DAE has taken sustained efforts towards ensuring indigenous availability of established radio-pharmaceuticals as well as to develop emerging ones for state-of-the-art NM services in India. Many such products are being regularly used for serving patients and some others are undergoing clinical evaluation. This has not only ensured the availability of many of the recently emerging radio-pharmaceuticals, but has also made them indigenously available at an affordable cost to the patients in our country,” Former Chairman, BRIT and Chief Executive, BRIT and Associate Director, Isotope Group, BARC, Dr. N. Ramamoorthy said during a media meet in Mumbai. The theme for the Media Meet was “Radioisotopes in Healthcare – Radio-pharmaceuticals for Nuclear Medicine: DAE Roles and Contributions”.

Nuclear Medicine is a branch of science that involves use of target specific or locally-instilled radioisotopes in the human body for early diagnosis and treatment of diseases like differentiated thyroid cancer, hyperthyroidism, neural crest tumors and refractory rheumatoid arthritis. The mass of radioactive material in any radio pharmaceutical is too low to have toxic effects.

The medicinal use of radioisotopes picked up momentum in India after the commissioning of Apsara reactor in 1956. Apart from using it for diagnostics, radio-isotopes like iodine-131 and phosphorous-32 were used in treatment as well. BARC commissioned the CIRUS and Dhruva research reactors for these purposes producing these radio pharmaceuticals. Later on the Board of Radiation and Isotope Technology (BRIT) was created in March 1989.