Released May 27, 1998
For more information, contact: Kara Villamil, or Mona S. Rowe
UPTON, NY - Heart attack patients and others around the nation will soon have their urgent nuclear medicine needs met without interruption, as the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory steps up to become the only current source for some short-lived medical isotope products.
The agents are being made at a BNL accelerator facility, called BLIP for Brookhaven Linac Isotope Producer, that began a production run late last week.
Three other similar facilities in the U.S., Canada and Russia are all temporarily off-line and cannot produce the valuable and short-lived radioisotopes that are used as diagnostic, research and calibration agents in hospitals and research institutions nationwide.
"Just one shipment of the strontium isotope we're making will mean that up to 4,000 heart attack patients will know quickly if they need to have surgery or just medication," said Leonard Mausner, who heads the facility. "The germanium we produce will help keep positron emission tomography medical scanners around the country in top working order, so that diagnosis of cancer and other disorders can continue. Without BLIP, none of this would be possible."
BLIP uses a linear accelerator, or linac, to generate a beam of speeding protons that smash into a specially designed "target." Depending on the material used in the target, a desired radioisotope, or short-lived radioactive element, is produced under controlled conditions.
The isotope is then separated from the target, packaged according to strict guidelines and flown to pharmaceutical companies or directly to hospitals and researchers.
As the production run gets under way, recently made improvements outside the BLIP building will protect groundwater in the area, said Laboratory Director John Marburger.
Speaking yesterday to the Brookhaven Executive Roundtable, a panel of local officials and regulators, he said that rain gutters have been repaired and the area around the building has been fully paved in order to prevent rainwater from infiltrating the ground under the part of the building that houses the BLIP target.
Such infiltration may have caused the migration of the tritium recently detected at levels below the federal drinking water standard in monitoring wells near the BLIP facility. The upgrades were made by BNL in concurrence with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services to prevent further contamination.
Additional monitoring wells in the immediate vicinity are planned.
The current BLIP production run will produce a form of strontium that decays into rubidium-82, whose 75-second half-life makes it attractive for use in a diagnostic procedure that can show how much of a person's heart muscle is working.
Pharmaceutical company Bracco Diagnostics, through manufacturing contractor Bristol-Myers Squibb, processes the strontium and ships it to 16 major cardiology centers around the country.
BLIP will also replenish the nation's supply of germanium-68, which is used to calibrate nearly 100 positron emission tomography scanners, and copper-67, used in metabolic and other studies.
A major medical isotope facility since 1972, BLIP was upgraded in 1996 to improve the reliability and intensity of the beam, allowing more of each isotope to be produced in less time. The upgrades also modernized the facility and the laboratories used to handle the isotopes, and made improvements to increase worker safety.
Besides strontium, copper and germanium isotopes, BLIP produces isotopes to order for researchers in scientific and medical studies. BNL is also a leader in nuclear medicine research, and has pioneered the use of many isotopes that are now in widespread use. One BNL-developed isotope, technetium-99m, is now commercially used to diagnose disease in 12 million patients each year in the U.S.
BLIP's operations, carried out within the Radionuclide & Radiopharmaceutical Program of BNL's Medical Department, are funded by DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology.
The U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory creates and operates major facilities available to university, industrial and government personnel for basic and applied research in the physical, biomedical and environmental sciences, and in selected energy technologies. The Laboratory is operated by Brookhaven Science Associates, a not-for-profit research management company, under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.