The increased employment of stable isotope tracers for diagnostic and research purposes frequently raises questions on potential risks associated with their use, which is of particular importance in the paediatric age group. Biological effects and the potential of adverse events has been evaluated in a large number of animal and, in part, also human studies. Possible differences in physical, chemical and biochemical behaviour resulting in kinetic and thermodynamic isotope effects between stable isotopes of the same element are related to the relative differences in atomic weight. Deuterium (2H), which differs markedly in mass from the predominant hydrogen isotope 1H, may induce serious side-effects at high concentrations in body fluids. The threshold dose for the occurrence of side-effects lies well above the usual tracer dosages for clinical use. In contrast to deuterium, heavier stable isotopes such as 13C, 15N or 18O that differ relatively little in mass from the predominant isotopes such as 12C, does not show any adverse biological effects even at highest enrichments. CONCLUSION: The doses of stable isotope tracer substances that are used for clinical diagnostic and research purposes appear safe and without any adverse effects. Stable isotope tracers should only be used in children if the trace is safe at the doses applied, and tracer is chemically pure and stable. In the case of intravenous application, the tracer preparation must also be sterile and pyrogen free.
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