A groundbreaking development in nuclear medicine has emerged from the United Kingdom, potentially revolutionizing cancer diagnosis and treatment. Astral Systems, a startup founded at the University of Bristol, has unveiled a pioneering technology known as the Multi-State Fusion (MSF) Reactor. This innovative reactor is designed to produce crucial medical isotopes vital for both cancer radiotherapy and diagnostic imaging.
Medical isotopes, radioactive substances used in medicine, play a crucial role in targeted cancer treatment by effectively eliminating cancer cells during radiotherapy. Additionally, they act as “radioactive tracers” within the body, aiding in the detection of medical conditions through imaging.
Talmon Firestone, co-founder and CEO of Astral Systems, emphasized the historical significance of nuclear medicine, stating that it has been saving lives for decades by enabling the medical profession to scan for cancer and directly treat tumors and cancerous cells at their source.
The new MSF Reactor addresses a looming challenge in the field—the impending shortage of medical isotopes. A UK Government assessment has indicated that a majority of the global supply relies on a few aging fission reactors, most of which are set to shut down by 2030. This raises concerns about the future availability of these critical medical resources.
Astral Systems envisions a solution through the construction of small fusion reactors, strategically installed in regional isotope facilities globally. This decentralized approach promises a more flexible and cost-effective radioactive sample supply, mitigating the risks associated with dependence on a few large reactors and ensuring a continuous and reliable production of medical isotopes.
Talmon Firestone highlighted the significance of this technology, emphasizing that their systems can produce isotopes at a much smaller scale than alternate technologies, enabling the production of medical isotopes near or within hospital hubs without relying on giant international nuclear fission plants. This development is anticipated to reduce hospital wait times and costs while enhancing the quality of care.
In collaboration with the Science and Technologies Council (STFC), Astral Systems secured a £1 million research grant in 2021 to optimize and commercialize the MSF Reactor technology under the project named MicroNOVA. If successful, this technology could usher in a new era in cancer treatment and medical isotope production, offering hope for improved patient outcomes and more accessible healthcare.