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Wahl receives nuclear medicine award

Honored for work on cancer imaging, targeting tumors with radiation

by Tamara BhandariJune 24, 2018

Richard L. Wahl, MD, the Elizabeth E. Mallinckrodt Professor and head of the Department of Radiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is the recipient of the 2018 Georg Charles de Hevesy Award by the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging. He received the award June 24 at the society’s annual meeting in Philadelphia.

The de Hevesy award recognizes researchers whose groundbreaking discoveries and inventions have advanced the field of nuclear medicine. Wahl, who is also director of the university’s Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, is being honored for his work on cancer imaging and on developing techniques to target tumors with radiation using the immune system.

“Dr. Wahl is a true pioneer in nuclear medicine and molecular imaging,” said Bennett S. Greenspan, MD, president of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging. “[His] work contributed significantly to understanding the importance of using metabolic activity to determine [cancer] prognosis, and of predicting response to therapy. He also made significant contributions to the success of radioimmunotherapy. These contributions are foundational to the future growth of our field.”

Radioimmunotherapy takes advantage of the immune system’s ability to home in on specific targets to precisely deliver radiation to cancer cells. In a seminal study in 1993, Wahl showed that this approach was effective in people with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The technique forms the basis for FDA-approved therapies.

Wahl also has been a leader in the use of positron emission tomography (PET) scans to diagnose human cancers and other diseases. Tumor cells take up glucose more rapidly than other cells, and Wahl showed that glucose molecules labeled with radioactive tracers could be used to find and study tumors in animals and people. He also has been at the forefront of more recent efforts to combine data from different kinds of scans to form “fusion” images that can help physicians more precisely diagnose and characterize cancers.

Previous winners of the de Hevesy award from the School of Medicine include Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology professors Michel Ter-Pogossian, PhD, Michael J. Welch, PhD, and Barry A. Siegel, MD.

Tamara covers pathology, immunology, medical microbiology, cell biology, neurology, and radiology. She holds a bachelor's degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry and in sociology from Yale University, a master's in public health/infectious diseases from the University of California, Berkeley, and a PhD in infectious disease immunology from the University of California, San Diego. Tamara worked in laboratories for about a decade before switching to science journalism. She joined Medical Public Affairs in 2016.