Released 10/16/98

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or call Amena Saiyid at (516) 344-4458 or Mona S. Rowe at (516) 344-5056.

Additional Information:
Reflections on Powell Richards and Technetium-99m
Technetium-99m: A Humble Beginning
Instruments of Change: BNL's Mighty Machines
Radiopharmaceutical Research at BNL: Key Developments




Upton, NY - Powell "Jim" Richards, who retired from the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1983, was honored earlier today, when Mallinckrodt Medical dedicated a new building to him at the pharmaceutical firm's European headquarters in Petten, The Netherlands.

By bringing the world's attention to technetium-99m and revolutionizing the field of diagnostic nuclear medicine, Richards laid a solid foundation for the routine clinical use of many imaging radiopharmaceuticals, including the BNL-developed UltraTagRBC" red blood cell-labeling kit that Mallinckrodt now distributes worldwide. This kit uses technetium-99m.

"Powell Richards is a true pioneer in this field," said Rudolf Scholte, who is the European Vice President, Strategic Marketing in Nuclear Medicine at Mallinckrodt. "He was fortunate to find himself working at a laboratory where his creativity and vision were encouraged. Mallinckrodt is fortunate to have had such a fruitful collaboration with Brookhaven. And people everywhere are more fortunate than they may know to have access to the life-saving benefits that technetium-99m provides."

While working in BNL's Medical Department in 1960, Richards wrote the first scientific publication suggesting the medical use of technetium-99m.

These words, which are taken from that 1960 article, are engraved on the bronze plaque set in the Mallinckrodt building:

"Technetium-99m should be a useful research tool; it combines a short half-life and unique radiation characteristics. The absence of beta radiation reduces the amount of damage to biological systems usually associated with radioisotopes."

Technetium-99m is involved in nearly 20 million diagnostic procedures annually worldwide. About half of these procedures involve bone scans, while the rest are roughly divided among heart, kidney and lung scans.

Also, technetium-99m accounts for nearly 85 percent of the diagnostic imaging procedures used in nuclear medicine, which is a branch of medicine that uses radioisotopes for research diagnosis and treatment of disease.

"Nuclear medicine to a large extent owes its emergence and existence to technetium-99m," said Suresh Srivastava, who heads the research division at BNL where new radiopharmaceuticals continue to be developed for nuclear medicine.

This is the second time Mallinckrodt is honoring Richards for his contribution to nuclear medicine. Mallinckrodt chose to feature Richards in its annual calendar for 1977 titled, "The Founders of Nuclear Medicine."

Brookhaven National Laboratory also wishes to acknowledge the contributions of the following scientists whose pioneering work at BNL led to the development of the technetium-99m generator and technetium-99m-based radiopharmaceuticals: Harold Atkins, James Baranowsky (deceased), Edward Deutsch, William Eckelman, Margaret Greene, Paul Harper, Katherine Lathrop, Elliot Lebowitz, Archie Macauley (deceased), George Meinken, Terry Smith, Louis Stang, Suresh Srivastava and Walter Tucker (deceased).

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.




Powell Richards and Walter Tucker

The first Technetium-99m generator



"The introduction of Mo-Tc generator systems - providing millicurie quantities of the short-lived technetium-99m radionuclide - in the early 1960s by Powell Richards and the group at Brookhaven National Laboratory revolutionized clinical nuclear medicine. It is hard to conceive of where nuclear medicine would be today without this critical contribution by Mr. Richards."

Dr. James W. Fletcher,
President, Society of Nuclear Medicine


"I am very pleased that Mr. Powell Richards is being honored by Mallinckrodt in Petten, The Netherlands, for his past accomplishments at Brookhaven National Laboratory that led to the development and introduction of the most widely used isotope in nuclear medicine, technetium-99m. BNL feels equally honored and is proud of its continuing progress in the vital field of nuclear medicine, which has contributed to improved health care and produced immense benefits to millions of patients worldwide."

John H. Marburger, Ph.D
Director, Brookhaven National Laboratory


"Mallinckrodt is proud to honor Powell Richards, who is one of nuclear medicine's founding fathers. It was Richard's vision and persistence that introduced the world to technetium-99m and virtually revolutionized the way diagnostic nuclear medicine is practiced today."

Rudolf Scholte,
Vice President, Strategic Marketing in Nuclear Medicine
Mallinckrodt Medical, B.V.


"I am delighted that Mallinckrodt is honoring Jim by dedicating their molybdenum-99 processing facility in Petten to his name. While at BNL, Jim inspired all those who worked with him. He was a great mentor and I am glad that I had the opportunity to work with him, even if it was for only eight years. He has retired from the Radiopharmaceutical Group at BNL, but the program where he laid the foundation for technetium-99m continues to thrive with the development of new radiopharmaceuticals for treating and diagnosing cancer and other medical applications."

Suresh C. Srivastava, Ph.D.
Head, Radionuclide and Radiopharmaceutical Program
Medical Department
Brookhaven National Laboratory




Since its humble beginnings in 1958, technetium-99m has become the most widely used radioisotope for diagnosing diseased organs.Technetium-99m, which is a radioactive isotope of the man-made element technetium, is the favored choice of the medical profession because the type of radiation it emits allows the practitioner to image internal body organs without causing radiation damage. Its half life is six hours, which is long enough for a medical examination and short enough to allow a patient to leave the hospital soon afterwards. And what's more, technetium-99m is generated from molybdenum-99, which has a half-life of 66 hours, allowing it to be transported over fairly long distances.

Nuclear medicine is a branch of medicine that uses radioisotopes for research diagnosis and treatment of disease. For instance, technetium-99m is used in 20 million diagnostic nuclear medical procedures, half of which are bone scans, and the other half are roughly divided between kidney, heart and lung scans. Approximately 85 percent of diagnostic imaging procedures in nuclear medicine use this isotope.

This preeminent radioisotope was nearly overlooked when it was initially detected as a trace contaminant during the development of a different generator at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory in the 1950s.

Walter Tucker and Margaret Greene were refining the product iodine-132, the "daughter" radioisotope generated from the "parent" tellurium-132. They discovered that technetium was coming from its parent, molybdenum-99, which was following the decay chemistry of tellurium-132. Noticing a similarity between the tellurium-iodine parent daughter pair and the molybdenum-technetium pair, Tucker and Greene developed the first molybdenum-99/technetium-99m generator.

Around the same time, Powell "Jim" Richards was placed in charge of radioisotope production at Brookhaven, where the team continued to refine and develop the generator.

Richards realized the true potential of technetium-99m and promoted the radioisotope among the medical community. He presented the first published paper suggesting the use of technetium as a medical tracer, at the 7th International Electronic and Nuclear Symposium in Rome in June of 1960.

On his way to Rome, Richards met with Paul Harper of the University of Chicago and the Argonne Cancer Research Hospital, and spent the long airplane flight extolling the merits of technetium-99m.

The following year, Harper ordered the first technetium-99m generator from BNL to make blood flow measurements in patients. During his initial studies, Harper observed the rapid uptake of technetium-99m in the thyroid gland and brain tumor. These findings created an interest in technetium-99m at other institutions, and orders for generators began trickling in.

Richards set up a collaboration with Harper and a colleague at the University of Chicago, Katherine Lathrop. This venture led to the development and refinement of many procedures. Important ones include the first instant kit for labeling red blood cells that was developed and patented by Richards in 1976, and later refined and patented again by Suresh Srivastava, also of BNL. Mallinckrodt Medical, B.V., now distributes these kits worldwide under the name of UltraTagRBC,.

Between 1963 and 1966, the interest in technetium-99m grew as its numerous applications as a radiotracer and diagnostic tool began to be described in publications. By 1966, unable to cope with the demand for technetium-99m generators, BNL withdrew from production and distribution in favor of commercial generators. The first commercial generator was produced by Nuclear Consultants, Inc. of St. Louis (later taken over by Mallinckrodt), and Union Carbide Nuclear Corporation, New York.

Today, thirty years later, scientists are still finding new uses for technetium-99m. Reported in October's New England Journal of Medicine, doctors from the University of Vermont used technetium-99m to diagnose precisely the infected lymph nodes in breast cancer patients. By injecting technetium-99m into the breast around the tumor, these doctors were able to locate the node quickly and precisely before ever making an incision.

Though hundreds of thousands of generators have been produced since the very first one at Brookhaven, the Laboratory has never realized any monetary gain from this invention as it was never patented. But Richards and his colleagues have gained immeasurable satisfaction from the knowledge that their discovery, inventiveness and persistence have paid off so handsomely for patients around the world.



The technetium-99m generator, the red blood cell-labeling kit, a pain-reliever for bone cancer patients and various other radionuclides that are essential to nuclear medicine ­ all these life-enhancing developments grew out of Brookhaven National Laboratory's radionuclide and radiopharmaceutical research program. The success of this program at BNL has been possible due to the existence of unique facilities that are used to generate new and unique radioisotopes - the Brookhaven Linac Isotope Producer (BLIP), the High Flux Beam Reactor, several cyclotrons and the Brookhaven Medical Research Reactor. The new radionuclides and radiopharmaceuticals that BNL researchers develop and evaluate at these facilities will lead to improved diagnostic and therapeutic procedures in nuclear medicine with reduced patient radiation doses, and to a better understanding of physiological processes in health and disease

BLIP produces the lion's share of radioisotopes at BNL. A world-class radionuclide research and production facility, BLIP continues to serve as a unique national resource for the production of many isotopes that are generally unavailable elsewhere, but are crucial to nuclear medicine for both research and routine clinical use in patients. Since 1973, BLIP has supported research in diagnostic and therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals by supplying a steady stream of radioisotopes to BNL, the medical industry and independent researchers worldwide.

To ensure that BLIP will continue to serve as a reliable source of selected radioisotopes and to meet the national need for medical isotopes in a meaningful way, Brookhaven completed an interim upgrade of the BLIP facility in 1997. This upgrade made BLIP capable of year-round operation at much higher beam currents and ready to serve as the core of a possible national isotope center at Brookhaven.

Radiopharmaceutical Research at BNL

Key Developments