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Atomic agency produces medical isotope for cancer treatment

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Seen is the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute's (KAERI) cyclotron used to produce Cu-67 medical isotope. / Courtesy of KAERI
Seen is the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute's (KAERI) cyclotron used to produce Cu-67 medical isotope. / Courtesy of KAERI

By Baek Byung-yeul

The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) has succeeded in producing a medical isotope that can be used for cancer diagnosis and treatment simultaneously, the state-run atomic research agency said Tuesday.

The institution said it could produce the isotope copper-67 (Cu-67), widely considered as a next-generation radioisotope for cancer treatment because it allows for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer simultaneously and has a relatively short "half-life," which means its radioactivity dissipates faster than that of other isotopes.

When Cu-67 is injected with monoclonal antibodies into a cancer patient, it helps the antibodies to destroy the cancerous tumor. KAERI said Cu-67 successfully destroyed about 80 percent of lung cancer cells in cellular experiments.

KAERI used its RFT-30 cyclotron, a device that is used for the development of medical radioisotopes and basic science research using proton beams, to produce the Cu-67. It will be supplied to local medical institutions starting the second half of 2020.

"PET scans are widely used for diagnosing cancer, but antibodies or peptides that contain Cu-67 can carry out both scanning and therapy. Cu-67 also has a relatively short half-life of 2.6 days, which means it is less dangerous, so it has been widely regarded as a next-generation radioisotope for cancer treatment," a KAERI official said.

Despite its reported superiority in treatment, producing Cu-67 takes some time due to the complexity of the procedure and high costs involved. KAERI said it had developed the technology to produce a dozen mCi (millicurie) of Cu-67; enough to supply three research institutions at the same time.

KAERI said more than 10 medical research centers here have already requested the use of Cu-67, and that it will begin supplying them from the second half of the year.

Lee Kyung-han, president of the Korean Society of Nuclear Medicine, said the production of Cu-67 will contribute to the development of the country's nuclear medicine technology.

"The successful production and supply of Cu-67 has brought the country a new chapter in theranostics ― a compound word combining therapeutics and simultaneous diagnosis," Lee said.

"The establishment of a Cu-67 production system will help the country lead the race in developing next-generation cancer treatments," Wi Myung-hwan, senior vice president of the KAERI's Advanced Radiation Technology Institute, said.

Baek Byung-yeul


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