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Brookhaven Lab's Joanna Fowler Receives Distinguished Women in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering Award

Joanna Fowler

Click on the image to download a high-resolution version. Joanna Fowler

UPTON, NY — Joanna Fowler, a senior chemist and director of radiotracer chemistry, instrumentation, and biological imaging at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, is one of 23 women from around the world who has been chosen to receive a Distinguished Women in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering Award, sponsored by the American Chemical Society (ACS).

The awards will be given as part of the United Nations’ International Year of Chemistry 2011, which marks the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to Marie Curie. The honorees were chosen based on their exceptional accomplishments in basic or applied research, teaching or education, or demonstrated leadership/managerial excellence in an organization within the chemical sciences.

Brookhaven Women in Science nominated Fowler for the award, with supporting documents from her peers. All the award recipients will be honored with plaques during the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry’s World Chemistry Congress in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on August 2.

“I am honored to receive this award, particularly since it recognizes the central role that chemistry plays in health and well-being,” Fowler said. “I am also grateful to my colleagues for their stimulation and support, and to the Department of Energy and Brookhaven National Laboratory for their stewardship of our research, which is at the interface of chemistry, biology, and medicine.”

Fowler has made significant contributions to brain research and to understanding diseases such as addiction, which she studies using an imaging technique called positron emission tomography (PET). In 1976, Fowler and colleagues synthesized 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG), a PET radiotracer. Today, FDG is widely used in hospitals and research centers throughout the world to diagnose and study neurological and psychiatric diseases and to diagnose cancer.

Fowler’s research has focused on developing radiotracers to measure the changes in the brain circuits that are disrupted by drug addiction and other brain diseases. She has measured the uptake and movement of such drugs as cocaine and methamphetamine in the human brain. This research has provided insight into why these drugs are so powerfully addictive. Fowler also performs PET studies to understand the action of therapeutic drugs and facilitate the introduction of new drugs into the practice of medicine.

She has conducted studies centered on monoamine oxidase (MAO) genes and how they affect personality and vulnerability to psychiatric disorders. In earlier research, she discovered that cigarette smokers have reduced levels of MAO, an enzyme that breaks down dopamine, the neurotransmitter that mediates reward, motivation and movement. This finding may help explain the high rate of smoking among individuals who are depressed or addicted to drugs.

After earning a B.A. in chemistry from the University of South Florida in 1964 and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Colorado in 1967, Fowler did postdoctoral research at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, England, and at Brookhaven Lab. She joined Brookhaven Lab in 1969, where she has spent her entire career.

A member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Fowler was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2009. In that year, she also received the NAS Award in Chemical Sciences, the New York State Distinguished Woman Award, and she was inducted into the Long Island Technology Hall of Fame. Among her numerous other honors, she received three previous ACS awards: the Glen T. Seaborg Award for Nuclear and Radiochemistry in 2002, the Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal in 1998, and the Esselen Award for Chemistry in the Public Interest in 1988. She received the Society for Nuclear Medicine’s Paul C. Aebersold Award and the U.S. Department of Energy’s E.O. Lawrence Award in 1997.

A faculty member of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Stony Brook University, Fowler has mentored dozens of chemists and other imaging scientists. She is also a member of numerous advisory boards and editorial boards. Fowler has published approximately 350 peer-reviewed articles and holds eight patents for radiolabeling procedures.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science and the National Institutes of Health fund Fowler’s research.

2011-1303  |  Media & Communications Office

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