Thorium-228 supply ripe for research into medical applications

Th-228 Production Team at ORNL


As a medical isotope, thorium-228 has a lot of potential – and Oak Ridge National Laboratory produces a lot.

That’s one reason ORNL researchers are especially excited about studies looking at different medical applications for the radioisotope. ORNL produces large quantities of Th-228 for the Department of Energy’s Isotope Program as a byproduct of actinium-227 production.

Both Ac-227 and Th-228 are created when ORNL irradiates radium-226 in the High Flux Isotope Reactor. Maximizing the production of Ac-227, used in cancer treatments, is the goal, but the process also produces a significant amount of Th-228.

Th-228 is used to make radium-224/lead-212 generators. These generators allow the radium-224 extracted from Th-228 to decay over time and produce lead-212 and bismuth-212 for research on targeted alpha therapy, attacking metastatic skin cancers and neuroendocrine tumors with minimal damage to surrounding tissue.

Right now, DOE’s Isotope Program, through the National Isotope Development Center (NIDC), sells these lead-212 generators to research laboratories and hospitals.

“We do expect the demand to increase,” said ORNL chemist Roy Copping.

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