From isotopes to internships, UW-Madison partnership energizes growing Wisconsin company

NorthStar Medical research lab

NorthStar Medical research lab

Written By: Adam Malecek

In late 2019, staff at Beloit, Wisconsin-based company NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes opened a package filled with radioactive materials. The delivery sparked an ongoing research collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Madison that’s accelerating the company’s emergence into an increasingly important healthcare market.

NorthStar produces medical radioisotopes and radiopharmaceuticals for diagnostic imaging procedures and targeted disease treatments, including cancer. The company had been looking for a convenient way to analyze the composition of materials through a process called neutron activation analysis.

NorthStar found that capability in the UW-Madison Nuclear Reactor, less than an hour’s drive away.

The facility is an exemplar of the Wisconsin Idea: Used in teaching engineering students and for a wide range of research applications, the reactor also provides a variety of services to both campus and off-campus users; in fact, over the reactor’s 50-plus-year history, its staff have irradiated materials for researchers studying everything from historical artifacts to bovine waste.

In their first project with NorthStar, reactor staff exposed various proprietary materials to neutrons, then returned the materials to the company for analysis.

“It was really beneficial to have a research reactor just down the road that could activate these materials for us, rather than having to ship samples across the country and rely on other labs to do the analysis,” says Dan De Vries, who directs medical radioisotope product development at NorthStar and spearheaded the collaboration.

That first project grew into multiple projects underway with the UW reactor, as well as a laboratory-use contract with UW-Madison. The contract enables qualified NorthStar employees who complete radiation safety training to conduct radioisotope experiments in the UW-Madison Characterization Laboratory for Irradiated Materials.

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