Labs returning to normal after isotope shortage

Labs in Red Deer are almost back to normal after a decline in the international supply of radioactive isotopes for nuclear medical testing.

Labs in Red Deer are almost back to normal after a decline in the international supply of radioactive isotopes for nuclear medical testing.

Doug Abrams, director of Radio Pharmaceutical Centre in Edmonton, said in recent weeks the lab at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, which gets the isotopes from a company that relies on a reactor in Holland, was testing the most urgent patients and rescheduling others.

“Next week (the Red Deer hospital) should be up to capacity. Central Alberta Medical Imaging Services gets their supply from us so they will also be back to normal,” Abrams said on Thursday.

The Holland reactor was down last week for a planned closure but is now back up.

Radio Pharmaceutical Centre, with Alberta Health Services, gets 80 per cent of the isotopes from Holland and 20 per cent from a reactor at Chalk River, Ont.

Each reactor supplies about one-third of the isotopes used around the world.

The Canadian reactor is expected to be down for about three months to be fixed.

About 80 per cent of testing that uses the radioactive isotopes are for bone cancer and heart disease scans.

Patients are injected with radioactive drugs to show how the body is functioning. Radioactivity emitted from the body is captured in a picture with a gamma camera.

Abrams said physicians were deciding which patients were a priority for testing and which could be safely rescheduled.

He did not know how long patients in Red Deer were waiting to be tested.

“We’ve been coping with the problem really well and there hasn’t been a large problem scheduling patients,” Abrams said about labs in Alberta.

The Holland reactor has ramped up production to meet the demand and the supply should be good for about four weeks. But that reactor is scheduled to shut down for four weeks in mid-July, which will impact the supply again.

“That will be a difficult situation, difficult to predict.”

Work is underway for other reactors around the world to help with the demand, Abrams said.

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