Moly-99 is a highly effective radioactive isotope that does not contain HEU (highly enriched uranium) and is used to detect cancer and other potentially fatal conditions. It is currently used in over 40 000 medical procedures in the US daily. Also known as Molybdenum-99, it forms a critical component of nuclear medicine imaging.
Where is it produced?
Up until recently, the production of Moly-99 was in scarce supply with only a few nuclear plants other than the US (Australia and South Africa) that had the reactor facilities to supply this. Because of this lack of supply, it was signed into legislation in the US in 2013 by the president, Barack Obama, to propel companies into the medical-isotope business.
Moly-99 decays rapidly and becomes non-effective within days; it also contains uranium which makes it a perceived terrorist threat as well as a perceived danger to transport; these reasons make for a compelling cause for it to be manufactured and distributed on a larger scale as a result of its limited supply. However, due to the complexity of the production of Moly-99 as well as regulatory inhibitions, this is only foreseeable in the next few years.
The benefits of Moly-99
First used in the 1960s it was injected into the patient’s body, emitting gamma rays which were detected by gamma cameras which were then able to detect blocked blood vessels and cancerous tumors. It was considered a much safer alternative to other diagnostic tracers as it meant that patients were exposed to much lower levels of radiation.
However, due to the short lifespan of the material, it meant that much of it ended up not being able to be used. This led to patients having to be exposed to more toxic imaging agents with uranium content that was more expensive and increased the patient’s exposure to higher levels of radiation. This has understandably led to a significant decrease in cardiac stress testing as medical practitioners eagerly await mass production of the radioactive material.
Moly-99 is currently in a race to be produced and distributed on a large scale around the world as medical practitioners seek to implement this highly-sought-after imaging detector in the race against time to combat potentially fatal diseases like cancer and heart disease.