The Lesser-known Yet Important Uses of Radioactive Isotopes

Uses of Radioactive Isotopes
Radioactive isotopes are chemical components that have an unstable nuclei. There are many beneficial uses of radioisotopes. Read on to know more about what are radioactive isotopes and their uses in the field of medical science.
Radioactive isotopes or radioisotopes are naturally or artificially created isotopes of chemical elements that have a very unstable nucleus. These products emit rays like alpha, beta and gamma rays. After the nucleus splits, it decays and forms a different atom having different number of protons. There are many uses in various fields like medicine, research, etc.

Radioactive Isotopes Used in Research

Radionuclides are put to use in many research facilities for developing new products and also used in scientific research. Following are some radioactive isotope uses:
  • New cancer treatments are developed using radioactive materials by medical researchers. In medical research, amino acids in cell culture are also labeled using a radioactive isotope.
  • In order to determine the age of fossils and artifacts, archaeologists use a naturally occurring radioactive element called carbon-14. This process is called radiometric dating or carbon dating.
  • In environmental research, small amounts of radioactive materials are used to trace the presence and movement of chemical contaminants in soil and water.
  • In geological research, uranium which is a naturally occurring radioactive isotope in the earth for studying continental drifts and determining the age of formation of rocks.
  • Agricultural researchers use radioactive isotopes to develop disease resistant plants, improvise pest control and produce effective fertilizers.
  • Another technique is food irradiation. In this method food is treated with gamma rays so that it has a longer shelf life. Gamma rays are passed through foodstuffs to stall spoilage and eradicate the presence of disease-causing microorganisms. The end result for this that food remains fresh for a longer period of time and is also safer.
Radioactive Isotopes Used in Medicine

With the advancement in medical technology, many new treatment methods are coming into existence. Researchers are trying out different means to curb and treat life-threatening disorders. A recent inclusion is the use of radioactive isotopes.Nuclear medicine has gained popularity in recent times, with the usage of isotopes. It was only during the early 1930s that these substances were used for diagnostic procedures in medicine. Mentioned below are some uses of this modern technology in the field of medicine.
  • After the invention of the gamma scintillation camera by Hal Anger, an American engineer in the 1950s, diagnosing deep injuries in the body became relatively easy.
  • In nuclear medicine, the radiation emitted by radioactive elements is used to provide a high quality imaging of bones and soft organs like heart, liver, thyroid, etc. It is also used to check the functioning of the organs in the body.
  • Technetium-99 is one of the most common isotopes used in hospitals. The radioisotope was used to detect, diagnose and treat thyroid problems like goiter.
  • Another use of radioisotopes is in nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI), where the internal bodily structures and functions can be visualized. Any diseased part in any of the internal organs can be easily diagnosed using this method.
  • It is also used in brain mapping to detect the presence of tumors or clots. A well-known treatment is the PET scan or positron emission tomography scan, where tissue metabolic activity can be monitored.
  • A tracer known as fludeoxyglucose (FDG), similar to glucose but spiked with fluorine-18, a radioactive isotope, is administered in the body which helps in observing the activities in the tissues. Phosphorus-32 and -33 are used to label the basic units of DNA or nucleotides.
  • Sodium-22 and chloride-36 are used for studying the transportation of ions in the body. PET scan along with CT scan provides important information on various types of diseases, from dementia to cancer and also gives 30% better diagnosis.
  • Radionuclide therapy or RNT is a diagnostic therapy where the growth of cancerous cells are controlled and the cells are even removed using radiation. Defective bone marrow cells are eliminated using a lethal dose of radiation, before replacing the diseased cells with healthy cells. To treat leukemia and provide relief to the pain caused due to it, samarium-153 and stronium-89 are used. This method is called chemotherapy, which helps in treating cancers.
Many radioactive isotopes uses have become a boon to modern science. Since radioactive isotopes are highly unstable, extreme care must be taken while using them.
Symbol for the chemical element uranium
Chernobyl Ukraine
Chart of Isotopes