B.C. scientists say they have reached a milestone in the development of a new source of medical isotopes that does not rely on Canada's aging nuclear reactors.

Radioisotopes are vital diagnostic tools used on 30,000 Canadians each week to detect medical conditions such as cancer or heart disease.

A team from TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, at the BC Cancer Agency says it has used a cyclotron particle accelerator that was designed and built in Richmond, B.C. for large-scale production of TC-99m, the isotope used as a radioactive tracer for nuclear medical imaging.

"We've demonstrated we can make enough isotopes for the Vancouver area on a routine, reliable basis," said François Bénard, scientific director of the centre for functional cancer imaging at the Cancer Agency.

"It really shows that if you trust scientists with a mission that we can really deliver on a mandate we're given," Bénard said.

Much of the world's supply of medical isotopes comes from the Atomic Energy of Canada's Chalk River research reactor. In 2009, an unplanned shutdown at the aging facility triggered a worldwide shortage.

Ottawa has said isotope production at Chalk River will end in 2016. Earlier this year, it announced $21 million for research into technology to produce them without a nuclear reactor.

There are more than a dozen medical cyclotrons across Canada, which the researchers think could be modified to supply the needs of the entire country. Bénard said the BC Cancer Agency team's production breakthrough with its medical cyclotron demonstrates a possible route to stabilizing the global supply of isotopes.

"What this does in practice is that it provides a path to not only replace isotope production from reactors to accelerators or cyclotrons, but also diversify the supply because then people will no longer be dependent on a single supplier supplying half of the world market," he said.

With files from The Canadian Press