Opportunities and challenges in the utilization of microfluidic technologies to the production of radiopharmaceuticals
Microfluidics and flow chemistry techniques are gaining an increasing importance in the set-up of chemical production processes. Radiopharmaceutical chemistry is one of the most delicate fields of medicinal products’ production, in which microchemistry combines with the use of short-lived nuclides. In this perspective, we will show how microfluidic techniques, a subset of flow chemistry approaches, is changing the methodological scenario by introducing sensible improvements in the synthesis of radiopharmaceuticals, widely used in diagnosis and research. Opportunities, problems and challenges will be discussed, as well as new application in the radiochemistry field, which may translate to potential future developments for applied research.
Microfluidics in chemical world
The development of a chemical process involves the full journey from selecting and combining the starting materials, down to the finished product (Figure 1). This task has to respect economic and environmental boundaries, and medicinal product are particularly challenging in this respect. The adoption of optimal technology and innovation is therefore a needed development.
Microfluidics and flow chemistry play an important role in this scenario, due to the fact that dominant physical quantities (e.g. heat and mass transfer) tend to operate differently from conventional flask chemistry. Originally investigated in few industrial chemistry and academic environments, where it benefitted from the development of a dedicated microscale industry (including microelectronic and engineering), microfluidics is mutating from a replacement technology to an enabling one. In general, the best success of microfluidics has been achieved whenever the process needed to be moved closer to the end user, such as in the case of point-of-care or lab-on-chips for environmental or medical control.