NNL makes breakthrough in production of Lead-212

7 June 2022

The UK National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) said on 30 May that it had made a breakthrough for producing the medical radioisotope Lead-212, a key cancer treatment, which is difficult to produce. Lead-212 limits the side effects of cancer treatment because it is delivered directly to cancerous cells. Currently the supply of Lead-212 faces a global shortage which constrains its use, with no production route in existence in the UK.

The production process was developed at NNL’s Preston Laboratory and is currently going through quality assurance and scale-up work. To achieve this, NNL is working specialists at Queen Mary University of London and King’s College London and their associated nuclear medicine departments at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

NNL CEO Dr Paul Howarth said: “Fifty years ago, the UK led the world in medical radioisotope research and production, yet today we rely on imports often from ageing facilities. Establishing a sovereign home-grown supply of these important medical radioisotopes would be transformative for healthcare in the UK and, given the global nature of the supply challenge, citizens of the other countries we supply.”

According to NNL’s Health and Nuclear Medicine Director, Nick Hanigan, the new production process “requires complex chemical separation and purification of nuclear material”. He added: “Our plan now is to scale the production route in order to remove the significant supply constraints currently faced by hospitals. “This breakthrough development is a single aspect of our work on medical radioisotopes, a tool used on a daily basis by every hospital in the UK to diagnose and treat health conditions including many types of cancer, heart disease and thyroid disease and for the early detection and assessment of brain disorders such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.”

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