A private campus research institute was recently awarded funding for a project that will focus on nuclear engineering research.
The Morgridge Institute for Research, a nonprofit research institute located on the University of Wisconsin campus, received a $20.6 million award from the United States Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.
The federal funding will go toward research and development of a facility that will produce a specific isotope—or different version of a chemical element—that is commonly used for imaging purposes in medicine.
The medical isotope is needed by tens of thousands of U.S. patients daily, according to a UW statement. The Morgridge Institute for Research will serve as the prime contractor for the project. However, the project is also a cooperative effort between the Morgridge Institute and UW, as well as SHINE Medical Technologies and many other national labs.
Principal Investigator for the project Thomas Mackie, also director of medical devices at the Morgridge Institute for Research, said the project entails several dimensions.
“It is a large-scale, multi-faceted project to put together well-known technologies in a new way,” Mackie said.
SHINE will produce an $85 million manufacturing plant that is capable of producing the needed isotope, according to the statement.
In addition, the institute will act as the main subcontractor of the project. Morgridge Institute employees will be concentrating on the technical aspects of the project, supported by the funding.
“The SHINE Medical Technologies project highlights the success of our collaborative efforts to transfer technology from university labs to the private sector for the benefit of the public,” Mackie said in the statement.
He said that a new way of producing the isotope without the traditional practice of using highly-enriched uranium will be safer for human health and the environment. Low-enriched uranium, which is much less radioactive, is used in the new project.
According to the statement, the low-enriched uranium method will be beneficial because the process using highly-enriched uranium requires a nuclear reactor and is less reliable.
Mackie also said the goal of the project is to produce roughly half the medical isotopes used in the United States by 2015. He said currently there is no domestic source of the isotopes, and they are being imported from Canada and Holland.
Because of this, he said highly-enriched uranium must be sent to both countries to produce the isotopes. Mackie called this a “proliferation issue,” saying that by keeping the production in the U.S., the threat will be reduced by making sure the material will not have to leave the country’s borders.
In the statement, Greg Piefer, CEO of SHINE Medical Technologies, said the company is grateful for the funds since collaborative projects of this scope are not possible without support.
According to the UW statement, the production facilities will be located on an 84-acre site south of Janesville, Wis., a location that was chosen after two years of analysis.