reWorking Michigan: MSU Radiopharmacy, Made-to-Order Isotopes

East Lansing, MI –

As medical technology advances, Michigan officials are working to position the state as a leader in life-sciences. The state already has solid pharmaceutical, chemical and medical equipment manufacturing industries. One of the newest products made in the state has more to do with physics than physicians. | SKIP down to article

VIDEO: reWorking Michigan visits Michigan State University for a look at nuclear medicine, and a conversation with Tom Cooper about mid-Michigan's first radiopharmacy.

Brian Harris is the radiation safety officer at Michigan State University's Department of Radiology. He's giving a tour of the new radiopharmacy the university is hosting for an Ohio-based nuclear medical company.

"When in doubt, keep your hands in your pockets. As non-radiation workers you need to ensure that you're not touching or handling anything," he advises. There's good reason for the precautions.

The pharmacy's primary product is fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG). FDG is the radioactive imaging agent used in Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans.

FDG is a liquid mixture of the radioactive flourine-18 and glucose. Glucose, if you will recall from middle school science class, is a sugar. When you inject it into a patient, it gets absorbed at different rates by different parts of the body. The more glucose, the more flourine-18. The more flourine-18, the more positrons. The more positrons, the brighter the object appears in the PET scan. And as it turns out, cancer tumors love glucose, so they shine especially bright.

Producing FDG requires a cyclotron.

The Cyclotron
"Down in the basement there's a cyclotron. That cyclotron takes non-radioactive things and makes them radioactive. That's its basic function," explains Harris. "We take a heavy isotope of oxygen, called oxygen-18, a rare-occurring oxygen isotope that's stable and nonradioactive. We use a proton beam to nucleicly change it into flourine-18, which is a radioactive, unstable isotope that specifically is of interest to this process because it decays in a particular mode known as positron beta decay."

As this stuff decays it throws off particles called positrons. Those positrons can then be detected using PET Scans.

Interim Director of MSU's Department of Radiology Tom Cooper says PET scans are one of the best ways to diagnose and help treat cancer.

"Since cancer typically uses a lot of glucose, the FDG will immediately go to the tumor, emit these positrons, which are then collected by the scanner, and identify where in the body the tumor is located," says Cooper.

More Local Access
MSU's been making FDG for Cardinal Health, a national distributor, for seven years. But the radiopharmacy is a new venture with Cardinal, started in July of 2011.

"In the radiopharmacy, a radiopharmacist will actually draw up patient-specific doses, and we'll have the patient's name, the time of the scan, and then those patient-specific doses will be delivered by Cardinal Health to the institution that's going to image the patient," explains Cooper.

He says they used to ship the FDG in bulk to radiopharmacies in Flint or Grand Rapids, where it was dosed out and shipped back.

FDG doesn't shine for long -- a little like those glow sticks you get from the fair. FDG has a half-life of about two and half hours, and a shelf life of about ten. And once it's gone, it's gone.

So having a radiopharmacy in Lansing will allow for better distribution of the medicine, and ultimately allow for more local access to PET scans, which will in turn allow for better diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Cooper says the pharmacy will also help life science researchers looking for even more uses for nuclear medicine.

reWorking Michigan
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