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The Future Gamma Irradiation


Published on December 20, 2021

As industries that thrive on the discovery of the new and the next, medical device and pharma can be equally dogged in defense of what has worked before and will work now. Both perspectives have a place in our work. A perfect example is our enduring reliance on gamma irradiation as a sterilization mainstay. Gamma irradiation has been around for more than 70 years yet remains the most popular irradiation sterilization modality for medical devices today. Gamma irradiation is effective. It is well-suited to many applications, packaging types, and is scalable. But what if it became less available?  

This recent article in MD&DI investigates the sustainability of gamma irradiation, the new risks it faces, and how existing and emerging alternatives size up. 

The central issue at hand is gamma’s dependence on the radioactive isotope Cobalt-60 for production. Just 19 nuclear reactors in the world are responsible for 100% of Cobalt-60 production. Supply disruptions have become a growing concern, especially as the demand for medical cobalt continues to climb, while at least one global supplier has elected to cut Cobalt-60 production.  

The author examines emerging isotope production processes that could boost Cobalt-60 supply, and new directions such as X-ray irradiation as possible gamma alternatives. We think this is a topic to watch as we prepare for the new year.  

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