Nuclear medicine is a specialized area of radiology that uses radiopharmaceuticals to examine organ function and structure.
But how are radiopharmaceuticals created?
It’s a complicated process, and only a few sites in the United States are capable of producing them. These sites are called reactors, and the University of Missouri’s Research Reactor (MURR) is the largest university reactor in the U.S.
This means that the School of Health Professions’ Nuclear Medicine students have the unique opportunity to receive hands-on learning regarding the manufacturing of these radioisotopes that they’ll use in their careers. The radiopharmaceuticals created at MURR assist with the diagnosing of various conditions, such as tumors and infections, as well as assessing organ function and blood circulation.
NorthStar is a nuclear medicine technology company that produces these medical radioisotopes in partnership with MURR.
After the radioisotopes are created at the MURR facility and NorthStar’s isotope processing facility, they are then shipped to radiopharmacies across the United States. From there, the radioisotopes are prepared for patient administration.
Wonder Kim is a nuclear medicine student who interned with NorthStar for a few weeks at the end of the summer.
Kim worked with NorthStar’s RadioGenix® System – a radioisotope separation platform for use in producing technetium-99m (Tc-99m) from non-uranium produced Mo-99. He was able to transfer the samples necessary for a variety of quality control checks prior to release to radiopharmacies across the U.S.
“Going into the NorthStar suite at MURR, seeing the equipment, and how the process works, was really beneficial to me,” Kim said.
Kim worked with several NorthStar team members throughout his time to get a sense of what their duties entailed, which gave him a lot of context for how the manufacturing side of radioisotopes works.
“Every conversation I had with the team members helped further my understanding of the business world in the medical radioisotope setting,” Kim said.
But this concept of trading knowledge worked both ways. Using his nuclear medicine technology education thus far, Kim was able to describe to the NorthStar team members the importance of medical radioisotopes to patients and exactly how the product they help create will be used in the medical field.
“It’s kind of a learning process for both of us,” Production Manager Jacob Consoer said. “We don’t know what’s happening to our product when it leaves the door, so the nuclear medicine technology interns help to educate us because they’ve been studying nuclear medicine, the patient end of the spectrum. So that’s pretty cool, because unless you’re a pharmacist, we only have a general idea of what happens to the product when it leaves the radiopharmacy and is injected into the patient.”
The NorthStar facility enjoys having interns around to learn from and work with them.
“Everyone here really likes helping, coaching, and teaching” Consoer said. “We really enjoy showing off what we do and watching the interns have the ah-ha moments when they are piecing it together, and it clicks, you can see it on their faces.“
Kim started out as a Health Science major before specializing in Nuclear Medicine, but when he sat in on an engaging guest lecture from Nuclear Medicine Professor Marvin Feldman, he was attracted enough to make the switch.
“Experience with patients right out of the gate was what I was looking for,” Kim said.
Though this internship doesn’t provide experience with patients, Nuclear Medicine students get that in their clinical rotations, so having the MURR nuclear reactor and the NorthStar facility so close is a great advantage and provides a well-rounded experience for MU Nuc Med students.
“I think it’s important for anyone in Health Sciences to have a general understanding of a lot of fields, it’s not ideal just to have me – as a technologist- knowledgeable in my field, only,” Kim said. “So this experience really helped broaden my horizons in that sense.”