During a hearing today before The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Lisa Murkowski raised the need for the United States to develop its domestic production of molybdenum-99, the parent isotope of technetium-99 (Tc-99m), used in 85 percent of the nuclear medical isotope procedures performed annually in this country.
"Since 1996, the health care industry has more than tripled, to over 30 million a year, its use of Tc-99m to diagnose serious medical conditions, including cancer and heart disease," Murkowski said. "It's critical that we develop our own reliable supply of nuclear medical isotopes to ensure that we can continue to provide the highest standard of medical care."
Nuclear isotopes are used in diagnostic imaging to help doctors identify diseases more quickly and accurately, saving time, money and potentially lives. While the United States uses about 50 percent of the world's supply of the medical isotope molybdenum-99, we have not produced the isotope domestically since 1989.
The United States has traditionally relied on nuclear reactors in Canada and the Netherlands for its supply of Tc-99m, but due to extended reactor shutdowns in those countries in 2009 and 2010, 80 percent of U.S. hospitals and pharmacies experienced supply shortages. Because of its short shelf life, Tc-99m cannot be stockpiled.
"The shortages of Tc-99m that the medical community and patients experienced in 2009 and 2010 certainly brought attention to this important issue," Murkowski said. "While imports, at the moment, are meeting growing demand, the stability and long-term viability of that supply remains in question."
In an effort to promote the domestic production of nuclear medical isotopes, Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the committee, has co-sponsored the American Medical Isotope Production Act of 2011 (S. 99) with Energy Committee Chairman Sen. Jeff Bingaman. The legislation provides the Department of Energy $143 million over three years. A similar bill was reported out of the Energy Committee unanimously last year.