Article Highlight | 5-Apr-2022

Cancer countermeasures on a column

University researchers produce a novel method of shipping the promising medical isotope Astatine-211

DOE/US Department of Energy

The Science

Researchers supported by the DOE Isotope Program are studying the isotope astatine-211 (At-211) for a new cancer treatment called targeted alpha therapy. This type of treatment may do more damage to cancer cells and cause less harm to the rest of the body than current cancer therapies because it emits alpha particles. Alpha particles deposit a large amount of energy in a small volume of tissue. Researchers have now developed a novel method of separating and shipping At-211. The method separates radioactive At-211 from nonradioactive bismuth, where At-211 is present at the level of 1 in 35,000,000 atoms. The At-211 is then loaded into a column made of resin for delivery to a cancer center.

The Impact

In an advance for cancer treatment research, scientists have produced At-211 quickly then shipped a small amount of the radioisotope in a safe and secure package to a cancer research center. The radioisotope can be directly “milked” from the resin shipping column as part of incorporating At-211 into a targeted alpha therapy drug. The new resin column trapping approach will allow isotope producers to ship larger quantities of At-211 with less risk and less loss of the isotope to decay than with current methods. This helps to promote the feasibility of At-211 as a next-generation powerhouse for effective treatment of cancer.


Texas A&M is one of about 30 sites in the world where At-211 can be produced. Because of the short half-life of the radioisotope, it is essential to reduce the time between production and patient treatment. The novel chemistry developed at Texas A&M University for At-211 allows for the extraction of the At-211 out of a solution containing a dissolved At-211 target. The incorporation of At-211 into a resin-packed column makes this chemistry rapid and very efficient. Once the At-211 is attached to the resin, the column can be dried and shipped. This new modality of shipping the radioisotope on the dried column enables safer shipping as the radioisotope is immobilized on a solid substrate. This approach also allows for re-purification of At-211 immediately before use, thus removing any bismuth decay product that accumulated during shipping. This allows for the potential use of different “milking” agents that can be tailored to different chemistry. At-211 is available through the DOE Isotope Program at


This work was supported by the Department of Energy Isotope Program managed by the Office of Science for Isotope R&D and Production; by Texas A&M University through the Bright Chair in Nuclear Science, the Nuclear Solutions Institute, and a T3 grant; and by the Texas A&M University System National Laboratories Office and Los Alamos National Laboratory through the joint collaborative research program.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.