Production of radioactive medicine

Early mornings help Danish cancer patients

Radioactive pharmaceuticals and isotopes Health and diseases

While Denmark and DTU have been under lockdown, vital parts of society have kept going. This also includes to some of DTU’s laboratories.

From early in the morning, radioactive medicine is produced in the Hevesy Laboratory situated in Risø close to Roskilde Fjord. This medicine is used in connection with the scanning of cancer patients. The durability of these liquids is measured in hours and consequently they must be used the same day, they are produced.

Laboratory technicians turn up for work at 3:30 AM in the clean rooms connected to the Hevesy Laboratory, in order to prepare scanning fluids for cancer patients. The radioactive medicine is delivered in small, capped vials and packed in specially designed lead-coated containers. These are picked up by drivers at 6:45 AM and taken to hospitals in Næstved, Bispebjerg and Køge. Here the liquid is injected into cancer patients to make it possible for doctors to find possibly malignant tumours.

Time is of the essence
In order to know which dose the patient is to be given, knowledge of the time of fabrication and injection is crucial, because the radioactive matter’s half-life is about 2 hours. If the scanning takes place at noon, the patient must only be given half the dose compared to a scanning taking place at 2 in the afternoon.

"Radioactive isotopes have been produced at the Hevesy Laboratory since 2004, and researchers here continue to work on optimizing them"
Professor Mikael Jensen

The Hevesy Laboratory is part of DTU Health Tech and explores, develops and produces radioactive isotopes and radioactive medicine used for diagnosing and treating a long list of diseases, which beside cancer includes heart and brain diseases.

"Radioactive isotopes have been produced at the Hevesy Laboratory since 2004, and researchers here continue to work on optimizing them", says Professor Mikael Jensen who is responsible for the laboratory.

Researchers produce radioactive isotopes by using a biomedical cyclotron, which is placed in the basement of the Hevesy Laboratory.


Radio nuclids: Chemical elements exist in many forms called isotopes. Isotopes can be stable or they can be unstable and emit ionised radiation when disintegrating. The unstable isotopes are called radio nuclids.

On their own or in connection with a chemical reaction, radio nuclids are able to create a radioactive tracker. The radioactive trackers, radioactive medicine, are used in both nuclear medicinal examinations and treatments.

Half-life: Half-life is the time that passes before an amount of a radioactive matter has been reduced by 50 %. The activity of the matter, which is defined by the number of radioactive disintegrations per second, is reduced in equal measure.
Each radioactive isotope has a specific physical half-life. In biology, biological half-life describes the time that passes before an organism has shed half of its matter. In order to minimize patients’ strain from the radiation, doctors often seek to use matters, which have about the same biological and physical half-life.