Randy Montoya
Researcher John Hall stands near Sandia National Laboratories’ Annular Core Research Reactor, where scientists discovered a way to make medical isotopes. The concept was licensed to Eden Radioisotopes LLC, which will build a reactor to make medical isotopes.

Tech Transfer Leads to Reactor for Medical Isotopes

Dec. 11, 2019
Once built, the new reactor will prevent isotope shortages and price spikes.

A New Mexico company secured funding this year and acquired 240 acres of land in the southeastern corner of the state to build a small reactor dedicated to producing medical isotopes. The concept was developed and licensed by Sandia National Laboratories to help establish a stable domestic supply of medical isotopes, which are made with low-enriched uranium and help diagnose a number of diseases.

This effort earned a regional Excellence in Technology Transfer Award from the Federal Laboratory Consortium, an association that recognizes industry and federal laboratories for outstanding work to develop and commercialize innovative technologies.

Medical isotopes are used annually around the globe in 40 million imaging procedures that diagnose heart disease, cancer, and other life-threatening conditions. The isotopes are injected into patients and emit gamma rays that can be tracked in the body, letting physicians “see” the spread of a disease. The isotopes also decay quickly, so patients are exposed to little radiation.

Building a new reactor is important because there are a limited number of them in the world that primarily produce molybdenum-99, or moly-99, which decays to technetium-99m, a short-lived isotope that makes up the individual patient doses. Some of those reactors have unplanned outages, causing shortages and price spikes.

Sandia’s concept to produce moly-99 with a small, 2-megawatt reactor requires less maintenance than larger reactors. The reactor will use low-enriched uranium and could help contribute to a reliable domestic supply of moly-99 without using high-enriched uranium. The company building the reactor, Eden Radioisotopes LLC, first had to demonstrate that it had a funding plan and experience to obtain an exclusive license for the technology.

“This has been a stellar example of transferring Sandia technology,” said Sandia business development specialist Bob Westervelt, who worked on licensing the concept. “The team that worked on this from Sandia was really committed to making this work, and Eden is making it possible for the technology to move forward. Everyone involved put in a lot of effort over many years to make this a success.”

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