SourceTech Medical taps into Argonne's expertise and facilities to develop permanent implants for treating prostate cancer
Luis Nuñez (left) of Argonne and Mike Drobnik of SourceTech Medical (STM) watch as titanium capsules containing radioactive iodine pass through STM's assembly system, where the capsules are manufactured and visually inspected. The chemistry behind the capsule manufacture was developed jointly by STM and Argonne.
SourceTech Medical (STM, Carol Stream, Ill.), a start-up company established in April 1998, approached Argonne National Laboratory for help in developing a new method of producing radioactive medical"seeds" for use as permanent implants in treating early-stage prostate cancer. The seeds are about the size of a grain of rice and contain radioactive iodine (I-125).
When faced with the technical challenges of working with radioactive materials, one of STM's first tasks was to identify a laboratory that could help. According to Michael Drobnik, STM's Director of Manufacturing,"Argonne's reputation in the field of nuclear chemistry and its laboratory resources made the Lab an ideal candidate as a collaborative partner. For our small, start-up company, working with Argonne was very cost-effective, because we were able to tap into the Department of Energy's expertise and advanced facilities without a lot of up-front spending on expensive laboratory equipment and other overhead items. This was critical in STM getting off the ground quickly."
Demand in the medical industry for radioactive seeds has significantly outpaced worldwide production capacity, and STM identified a marketing opportunity if the company could develop a technically competitive seed and reliable manufacturing method. STM entered into a reimbursable R&D, or"Work for Others" agreement with Argonne in July 1998. The Lab agreed to help STM develop the technology necessary to deposit radioactive I-125 onto substrates that could then be sealed inside the titanium capsules that form the seeds.
Work for Others involves research and development performed by Argonne where the costs are paid entirely by an outside organization, such as a company or another federal agency.
Once Drobnik, a chemist, completed required radiation worker training and safety reviews at Argonne, he began performing lab experiments in collaboration with Argonne's Chemical Technology Division personnel. This industry/Laboratory team successfully completed the investigative work in July 1999. STM has finished construction on a new facility in Carol Stream and is currently manufacturing and distributing I-125 seeds in the United States.
"The technical collaboration has been a very positive experience for SourceTech Medical and we are looking into additional working agreements with Argonne on future projects," adds Drobnik.
According to Luis Nuñez,"the Chemical Technology Division has been interested in developing its radiochemistry technology in the medical field. Our association with SourceTech Medical has provided a good avenue to achieve both their goals and ours."
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