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SNM Outgoing President Robert Atcher Discusses Isotope Supply and Molecular Imaging

by Kathy Mahdoubi, Senior Correspondent | June 13, 2009
Robert Atcher,
outgoing SNM president,
speaks to DOTmed News
about trends and challenges
As the Society of Nuclear Medicine meets in Toronto, DOTmed News spoke to President Robert Atcher, PhD, MBA about the radioisotope shortage and new molecular imaging research before he passes the torch to president-elect Dr. Michael Graham.

[DM: What is the mission of SNM's annual meeting?]

R.A.: The annual meeting has really one primary focus and that is to ensure that our membership has the most up-to-date information relative to maintaining their certification to practice. This is true for the physicians, physicists, technologists, and the pharmacists. They all qualify for continuing education credit at our annual meeting. We also have scientific sessions, for which they get credit, but it's also for scientists like myself to talk about the latest advances that we've made. It's an educational symposium as well as a scientific exchange. And then of course we have a fairly substantial exhibit hall. It has attracted people from around the world, because it has the most extensive list of vendors in the field.

[DM: What is on top of the agenda at this year's meeting?]

R.A. We are experiencing a crisis because the radioisotopes that we use to formulate radiopharmaceuticals are in short supply. Ironically, the [National Research Universal] reactor in Canada is offline right now and they provide about 50 percent of the material that we use in the United States. That is the molybdenum-99 issue.

[DM: What are the proposed solutions to the radioisotope shortage?]

R.A. There's a lot of activity, but I don't know if there is anything to date that would qualify as a substantial solution. Many of the things that we're dealing with in terms of potential solutions are more than a year away. The reactor in Canada is proposed to be offline a minimum of three months. The [Petten] reactor in the Netherlands, which is responsible for producing another 50 percent of the U.S. market is proposed to be offline for a month in July for preventive maintenance and also to be out an extended period next year. We're really scrambling to figure out a way to solve this problem in the short term...The Netherlands' reactor may reschedule the July outage based on the fact that we don't have the Canadian reactor operating.

[DM: What steps are being taken to produce these radioisotopes in the U.S.?]

R.A. We've already sent a letter to Chairman Markey [of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming] to say that we are very much in favor of a domestic supply solution. The one that seems to be the closest to potentially coming online is to expand the activity at the research reactor at the University of Missouri in Columbia Missouri to also include molybdenum-99 production.