Chemical shortage hits hospitals, research

    Local researchers are lamenting a world-wide shortage of a radioactive chemical used in diagnostics.

    Medical centers in the Delaware Valley and around the world are suffering from a global shortage of a radioactive chemical used in diagnostics. (Photo: Technetium scintigraphy of the thyroid of a Graves’ disease patient / Wikimedia Commons)

    Listen: [audio:090812kgisotope.mp3]

    Technetium-99 is used as a tracer to detect the threat of cancer in bone or to check cardiac function. The world’s main supplier in Canada has suspended production, meaning clinical centers are either delaying or cutting back on using the technique. Michael Yu is chief of nuclear medicine at Fox Chase Cancer Center. He says research using technetium will be the first to suffer.

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    Yu: We always go for clinical care first. Most of our research is built into clinical care of the patient. I think we’ll try to do our best to accommodate both.

    Chaitanya Divgi is chief of nuclear medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He says research using technetium has decreased this year.

    Divgi: In clinical research the ability to do bone scans, to follow patients’ treatment courses has been impacted. And the ability to do brain scans with technetium has been impacted…Sometimes when protocols have already begun in clinical research and you’re midway through and then you find that one of the tests you’re using for evaluation of your therapeutic agent may not be available, it’s a blow.

    Doctors can use other methods, such as cat scans or pet scans, to substitute for technetium. But Divgi says developing countries, where technetium is the primary diagnostic tool, might not be able to make the switch.

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