What are Radiopharmaceuticals?

Radiopharmaceuticals are drugs that, when administered to a patient, can be used for either diagnostic or therapeutic purposes. They are made up of a radioisotope bonded to an organic molecule which carries the radioisotope to specific organs, tissues or cells. Radioisotopes are unstable atoms that have a short half-life before they disintegrate.

What are Radiopharmaceuticals used for?

Radiopharmaceuticals can be used for medical diagnosis, therapy, treatment and research.

Radioisotopes emitting penetrating gamma rays are used for diagnostic purposes where the radiation has to escape the body before being detected by specific imaging systems such as iPET scans and SPECT scans. These radioisotopes are commonly used to: examine the blood flow to the brain, assess bone growth or to observe the functioning of the liver, lungs, heart or kidneys. Some examples of diagnostic radioisotopes, or radioactive tracers, are Technetium-99m, Selenium-75, Krypton-81m and Iodine-125.

Radioisotopes that emit alpha and beta particles are used for therapeutic purposes due to their ability to lose their energy over a short distance which causes a lot of local cell damage. An example of this is to target and destroy cancerous cells. Radioisotopes that emit alpha and beta particles are commonly used for: Treatments of Cancers, Tumours, Thyroid disease and arthritis. Some examples of therapeutic radioisotopes are Strontium-89, Phosphorus-32, Radium-223 and Hydrogen-3. Radioisotopes used for therapy tend to stay in the body longer than diagnostic ones, this is deliberate to increase the treatment efficiency.

Research is another area in which radiopharmaceuticals are used. Some current areas of interest are Oncology, Neurology/Psychiatry, inflammation and infection. Within neurology/psychiatry, radiopharmaceuticals are used to diagnose various cerebral vascular diseases and in terms of inflammation and infections, they are used for scintigraphic imaging in order to locate the site of infection.

Careers in Radiopharmacy

Radiopharmaceuticals are an integral part of the pharmaceutical industry, an industry that is growing rapidly. An occupation within this industry can be very rewarding and allows you a chance to make people’s lives better through the development of treatments such as systemic radiation therapy.

A career within the Radiopharmaceutical industry requires a working knowledge of pharmaceutical sciences as well as some radiation physics. Radiopharmacy is strictly regulated, it is important to be aware of the correct procedures and guidelines as well as having an understanding of good manufacturing practice (GMP). Due to the short shelf life of radiopharmaceuticals, jobs within the industry are challenging and can often come with some unsociable hours as employees are expected to work a flexible shift pattern.


Take a look at our current Radiopharmaceutical jobs.

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