When it comes to a miracle drug to cure cancer, you have to be very careful with what you read and it is always best to talk to your oncologist. However, there has been some major advancements in treatments that have done well to suppress various types of cancers. Given that disclosure, there is a cure for some cancers found in an Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL) nuclear waste storage container. Actinium-225, an isotope of the element actinium, which is usually found in uranium, is proving effective in curing – not just treating – myeloid leukemia.
Using actinium to cure myeloid leukemia is the only clinical trial for the isotope in the United States currently, but multiple trials are going on in Europe where they have found the isotope is also effective in treating prostate cancer and brain tumors. For now, American patients who have acute myeloid leukemia and are over the age of 60 can participate in the experimental treatment here, as long as they have gone through other treatments without success or if the disease has come back from remission. The isotope, when combined with tumor-seeking antibodies, is able to target and kill cancer cells without affecting healthy cells that surround them.
To start with, how did they find this cure and why were they looking at actinium? With millions of procedures a year, nuclear medicine is a force to be reckoned with. Ever since the discovery of x-rays, thanks to Madame Curie, and the mechanisms of the atom, medicine has made a quantum leap into the future. Radionuclides and radioactivity have helped us diagnose and treat countless numbers of conditions and diseases, which would otherwise have remained elusive to us. So it was only natural to find other isotopes in the nuclear sequence.
Myeloid leukemia is a rare and rapidly progressing blood and bone marrow cancer that interferes with the body’s production of platelets and normal white and red blood cells. The cancer is treatable in young patients, but often fatal for people over 60 years of age. That’s particularly problematic because the American Cancer Society says 67 is the average age of diagnosis. That is why the clinical trials are for those over 60 years of age. Actinium-225 has successfully treated the disease in elderly patients. ORNL nuclear medical scientist Dr. Saed Mirzadeh said some patients went into remission after only one treatment.
Dr. Mirzadeh came to ORNL from Iran in 1995. He had researched actinium-225 for years before he came to the United States seeking weapons-grade uranium from which to extract the miracle isotope. However, actinium is a byproduct of uranium-233, which the United States produced for ORNL’s molten salt reactor experiment (MSRE) in the 1960s. Uranium-233 is not a natural element found in the crust of the earth like U-235, U-238 and Th-232 that are used as fuel in a nuclear reactor. So it had to be manufactured through quick fission activity in a reactor or wait for a lengthy decay chain process. The only problem is, we no longer have that early version of a molten salt reactor to produce U-233 in the thorium fuel cycle. There was a limited waste supply from the 1960’s in storage that Dr. Mirzadeh was able to work with.
The actinium-225 targeted therapy cancer treatment is in the second phase of its clinical trials on human subjects, but has not yet been approved by the FDA. After this phase, it has one more to go through before the FDA will determine if it can be released to the market. However, President Trump has signed the ‘Right to Try’ legislation so more people will be able to get access to the treatment and possible cure. New Mexico was one of ten states that did not have a state law for right to try. This new federal law now allows us here in New Mexico to also seek out experimental treatments.
This brings us full circle again on why the Holtec HI-STORE CISF is such an important project to be developed, and more importantly, developed here in New Mexico. Spent nuclear fuel consist of ~95% U-238 and U-235 mixed that can still be used as fuel in advance reactor designs and the other 5% consisting of a variety of useful isotopes that can be used for medical purposes. There is no trash in spent nuclear fuel, only unused isotope treasures.
There are two approaches that can be taken to insure that there will always be enough isotopes to provide the medical field what they will need for treatment programs and additional research projects. The first is to utilize the isotopes we have in left over nuclear fuels (i.e. waste or trash) that are in storage all over the US and second to manufacture more isotopes through the thorium fuel cycle creating the daughter isotopes of Uranium-233 in advance Thorium Molten Salt Reactors.
There is no waste in spent nuclear fuel, only wasted opportunities.