Essen (dpa) – Due to technical problems at a research reactor in Belgium, patients in this country must be prepared for longer waiting times or delays for certain medical examinations. That’s what German nuclear medicine scientists fear, according to a statement from their professional union BDN. The reason for this in November is the impending bottleneck in the supply of so-called radionuclides, which are used, among other things, in the diagnosis of many types of cancer.
So this material is only produced in six research reactors around the world: in the Czech Republic, Poland, Australia, South Africa, the Netherlands and the Belgian city of Mole. The reactor in Belgium is now out of order due to technical problems. Unfortunately, other European nuclear reactors are currently out of service due to maintenance work, BDN head Detlev Moka of Essen said according to the announcement. In November, there will likely be no radionuclides for at least a week.
Radionuclides are radioactive elements that are urgently needed for the diagnosis and treatment of nuclear medicine. Simply put, doctors use these materials as diagnostic aids. Radionuclides are introduced into the body in a targeted manner to achieve therapeutic effects or to demonstrate metabolic processes. Visual representation is done by so-called scintigraphy.
New facility required
According to the BDN, radionuclides are used, among other things, in the detailed diagnosis of many types of cancer, for example to exclude or detect metastases. Small particles are also very important when examining organs such as the thyroid gland, lungs, kidneys, gallbladder, or liver and when diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, stroke or thrombosis.
The six research reactors play no role in power supply. “But its importance to nuclear medicine and therefore to patient care is great,” Mocha said. “Because reactors are the only source of some radionuclides.”
In Germany alone, according to the BDN, about 60,000 examinations with special items are carried out every week, all over the world there are more than 30 million examinations annually. Due to its great importance to nuclear medicine, the six factories around the world coordinate their production in order to avoid supply gaps.
Now the reactors in Australia and South Africa are supposed to run more. However, according to Moka, problems with 60-year-old systems have recently increased in Belgium and the Netherlands. His plea: “In terms of medical care, it will be urgently necessary to operate another system.”
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