DOE Announces $1M for Research on Medical Isotopes

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April 11, 2022 — Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $1 million in funding for three awards to advance research and development (R&D) to translate newly developed radioisotopes into evaluation for potential use in preclinical and clinical trials. This funding is part of a key federal program that produces critical isotopes otherwise unavailable or in short supply for U.S. science, medicine, and industry. While this program is administered by the DOE, assessment of submitted proposals was done in coordination with the National Institutes of Health.

Total funding is $1 million for awards lasting up to two years in duration, with a total of $1 million in Fiscal Year 2022 dollars and outyear funding contingent on congressional appropriations for both awards. The list of awards and more information can be found here.

Radioisotopes, or atoms that have excess energy in their nucleus, are used in medical diagnostic procedures to study otherwise imperceptible dynamic processes occurring in various parts of the human body. Radioisotope-based diagnostic procedures offer significant advantages over standard X-ray technologies.  Select radioisotopes have also been effectively used for decades to treat certain diseases, and many more have demonstrated efficacy in therapeutic medical procedures, such as in the treatment of cancer and infectious disease.

“The novel isotopes produced by the DOE Isotope Program can enable transformative approaches to cancer treatments with levels of efficacy that have not been seen before, as well as innovative technologies for imaging of disease and the human body,” said Jehanne Gillo, Director of the DOE Isotope Program. “It is essential to advance these isotopes for use in preclinical and clinical trials, as they have potentially enormous benefits to the field of modern medicine.”

Topics funded seek to address key challenges associated with the advancement of therapeutic radioisotopes, which hold the promise of treating cancer and infectious disease with extreme precision – in some cases down to a single cell. One topic investigates the design of new chemical agents to trap and hold the Auger electron emitter, antimony-119. Auger electron emitters hold incredible promise because they deposit their decay energy over a distance less than one-half the diameter of a human cell. Success could mean understanding the therapeutic potential of the isotope. A second topic funded investigates a diagnostic radioisotope analogue, cerium-134, to the highly promising therapeutic alpha-emitter, actinium-225. This type of study will allow clinicians to determine where an isotope will go in the body once injected, how much will go there, and, in many cases, how much will be needed based on the size of the disease burden encountered.

The projects were selected by competitive peer review under the DOE Funding Opportunity Announcement for FOA 2532: Advancing Novel Medical Isotopes for Clinical Trials and in cooperation with the National Institutes of Health.