If you thought it was just helium that’s in demand for medical imaging technologies, then think again, as The Gas Review (TGR) reports that the Water-18O stable isotope is in increasing demand for positron emission computerised tomography (PET) applications.

PET is a diagnostic imaging technology similar to the CT and MRI technologies that are so commonplace in hospitals and medical facilities around the world today. Especially used as a diagnostic measure for cancer, use of FDG-PET examination has been expanding not only in the advanced countries but also in the Middle East, Asia and South America.

Against this backdrop, TGR reports that Taiyo Nippon Sanso (TNSC) is to expand its production capacity of the Water-18O stable isotope, which is a raw material for a drug used in FDG-PET examinations. The company will establish a new production facility with a capacity of 200kg per year at its Sodegaura plant at Chiba Sanso Centre in Chiba Prefecture.

“Along with its existing plant, with a capacity of 100kg per year, TNSC’s total capacity to produce Water-18O will reach 300kg per year”

The new facility will be completed in 2013, an investment totalling around ¥1.7bn. Along with its existing plant, with a capacity of 100kg per year, TNSC’s total capacity to produce Water-18O will reach 300kg per year – the new site will be one of the largest facilities for Water-18O in the world.

Due to its application as a raw material in FDG-PET examinations, Water-18O demand has been increasing year by year and exceeded 500kg in 2010. With the number of PET examinations set to increase by 5-10% annually (it’s application is expected to be expanded to detecting brain and cardiac disorders too), the demand for Water-18O is expected to double, TGR notes.

18O is a stable isotope of oxygen and exists naturally only in small amounts – and is therefore very difficult to separate and concentrate. TNSC has established a concentration method using oxygen cryogenic separation technology and provides a product with the deepest concentration worldwide, with an atom ratio of over 98%. According to TGR, citing a spokesman at the Public and Investor Relations Department of Taiyo Nippon Sanso, the size of the market for Water-18O has reached an annual Y5bn. Currently, TNSC holds around a 20% share of the market and expects to acquire 30% or more of this market in two years.