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Isotope Sciences Program

About Medical Isotopes

Nuclear Medicine Imaging
Nuclear medicine imaging shows the distribution of medical isotopes after they have been administered to a cancer patient.

Medical isotopes are radioactive atoms of common and rare elements that have useful applications in medical imaging and cancer treatment, calibration of medical imaging systems, and irradiation systems for sterilizing medical products. Medical isotopes are often combined with chemical compounds to form radiopharmaceutical products, or they may be used as sealed radioactive sources. Highly specialized medical applications have been developed for more than 60 different medical isotopes based on their unique chemical and physical properties (half-life, emissions, energies, and chemical behavior).

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory specializes in radiochemical separations needed to provide ultra-pure medical isotopes. Although our Laboratory does not currently produce medical isotopes using a nuclear reactor or charged-particle accelerator, we do provide other services that are important in making medical isotopes available to the user community. Our distinguishing capability is high-purity radiochemical separations. For example, we prepare radium-223 and thorium-227 from legacy actinium-227 source material using separation technology developed at PNNL.

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