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Indian wins 'Nobel Prize' of nuclear medicine

A Correspondent | September 16, 2008 20:56 IST

Dr Mathew L Thakur

Dr Mathew L Thakur has been honoured with the Society of Nuclear Medicine's 2008 Benedict Cassen Prize, often called the 'Nobel Prize' of nuclear medicine.

Dr Thakur, a pioneer in molecular imaging, an emerging technique that helps detect disease at the molecular or cell level in the human body and thus helps develop personalised medicine, received the award during the Society's 55th annual meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana recently.

He is professor of radiology and radiation oncology/nuclear medicine at the Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, director of laboratories of Radiopharmaceutical Research Molecular Imaging, Nuclear Medicine Research, and a member of the Kimmel Cancer Centre.

He has focused on developing and evaluating radiopharmaceuticals for diagnostic imaging and therapy, noted the SNM's Education and Research Foundation, which sponsors the biennial award. He has produced and isolated many medically useful radionuclides and been instrumental in the preparation of several novel radiopharmaceuticals.

Radionuclides or radiopharmaceuticals, also called tracers, are drugs with small amount of radioactive material that are administered to patients, and the radiation emitted detected or photographed. In most cases, it enables physicians to quickly diagnose conditions like cancer, heart disease, thyroid disorders and bone fractures. Sometimes, this compound is also used to treat the condition.

Nuclear medicine is the only modality in medical practice that facilitates diagnosis of disease, its treatment and determines the effectiveness of the treatment with minimal invasion, the university pointed out.

Molecular imaging provides two or three-dimensional images of the biological processes at the molecular and cellular levels in humans and other living systems and the image shows how specific tissues are functioning.

"Among the many life threatening diseases, cancer remains the most formidable disease for mankind," Dr Thakur, who holds several patents, told <i>India Abroad</i>.

"Despite the great strides made in the management of cancer, the morbidity and mortality due to cancer is enormous. Infection also threatens to kill thousands of patients annually.Radiopharmaceuticals can detect such diseases at early stages, can treat them, and can be used to monitor the effectiveness of treatment. The major thrust of research in my laboratory over the years has been to design, synthesise and evaluate novel radiopharmaceuticals for such applications. I have been fortunate to have a few successful ones that have been and are being used in patients," he added.

He has helped change the shape of modern medicine, the university noted.
At the award ceremony, Dr Thakur delivered the Cassen Lecture on 'Genomic Biomarkers for Molecular Imaging: Predicting the Future.'

"I share this recognition with my family, colleagues, and with so many students with whom I have worked with over the years. This is truly a highlight of my career," he told <i>India Abroad</i>.

"His work has placed him among an elite group of only eight other researchers who have been awarded the Cassen Prize for their notable achievements," said Sue Weiss, executive director, ERF.

The Cassen Award is named after the late physicist Benedict Cassen.

Dr Thakur's career, spanning more than 35 years, has benefited millions of patients worldwide. He has developed widely used radiopharmaceuticals that have improved diagnostic accuracy and patient care, the university said.

He became interested in nuclear medicine and radiopharmaceuticals as an undergraduate at Bombay University, and later as a graduate student at the University of London [Images] in the late 1960s, where he received his Master of Science degree in analytical chemistry, and his PhD in radiochemistry.

Among the medically useful compounds he and his colleagues have developed methods to produce are Krypton-81m, an agent used for lung ventilation studies, Indium-111-Bleomycin, useful for detecting and treating specific cancerous tumors of the head and neck, and In-111-oxine (8 hydroxyquinoline), predominantly used to tag white blood cells and find hidden infections. Dr Thakur also developed the Tc-99m Anti-CD15 antibody, which eliminates certain drawbacks of In-111, and which is also an agent used to detect infection from anthrax.

His current research focuses on finding DNA patches that can help in the early detection of breast and prostate cancer.

"Our experience suggests that possibilities for applying such an approach are endless and are limited only by imagination," he said.

He has also received the SNM's Georg de Hevesy Award, the V Sarabhai Award and Paul Aebersold Award and the American Chemical Society's Maurice S Chamberland Award. His studies have appeared in noted scientific journals like Lancet.

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