In Memoriam: Dr. Prantika Som

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Posted: March 22, 2011

Som PrantikaContributed by Prantika Som’s friends, colleagues and family, including Kanokporn Noy Rithidech, Stony Brook University; Patricia Sacker, BNL; and Christopher Wong, BNL

Born in India in 1942, Dr. Prantika Som earned a Doctorate of veterinary medicine, with honors, from the University of Calcutta in 1965. She came to the United States in 1967 and continued her education in The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, where she earned a Sc.M. degree in pathobiology in 1969. Her postdoctoral training in nuclear medicine was carried out in the Department of Radiology of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institution between 1970 and 1972. Subsequently, she was appointed as a member of the faculty in the same Department and served in this capacity until 1975, when she brought her extensive expertise in nuclear medicine and veterinary sciences to the Medical Department of BNL.

Dr. Som’s first appointment at BNL was as an assistant scientist, and she rose to the rank of scientist by 1980. She also held a joint appointment in the Department of Radiology, Stony Brook University, New York.

In February 1993, Dr. Som was invited to the third International Workshop on Radioiodinated Free Fatty Acids held February 10-11 at the Kyoto University of Japan’s Faculty of Medicine, a leading world center for heart and brain studies. From there, she continued her stay in Japan at the Tohoku University Medical Society to give an invited lecture on cocaine’s effects on heart blood flow and metabolism. At Tohoku, she was presented with a plaque and citation, which, translated, reads: “In memory of the valuable contributions you have made to the Tohoku Medical Society.”

On her return to BNL, Dr. Som found that she had been promoted to the position of full Professor of Radiology at Stony Brook.

Prantika Som was highly productive. Her publications in several highly respected peer-reviewed journals and book chapters number more than 200 articles relating to nuclear medicine and the use of radiopharmaceuticals in diagnostic imaging. Her pioneering work using radioactive sugar (FDG) to detect cancer in animals in the early 1980s paved the way to widespread use of FDG with positron emission tomography (PET) for clinical oncology. Prantika volunteered her time generously to the scientific and academic communities. She served as Chairperson of the BNL-WIS Program Committee and other ad hoc committees (such as IACUC, and the Professional Staff Review Committee of the Medical Department).

In 1995, Dr Som was recognized and honored for excellence in science by the Town of Brookhaven. She also served as a reviewer for the NIH/ADMHA (National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Mental Health, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and for eight different scientific journals. She tirelessly provided consultation to scientists from several universities and private sector companies on radiopharmaceuticals.

From The Bulletin, March 24, 1995.

Brookhaven Town Honors Prantika Som

Prantika Som, a scientist in the Medical Department, was honored on March 28, 1995, for accomplishments and contributions to Brookhaven Town, at its annual Women’s Recognition Night. Som is recognized for her excellence in science. Other awards are given in the arts, business, community service, education, government, law, medicine, religion, sports and volunteerism.

Since coming to BNL in 1975, Som has focused her research on the diagnostic use of radiopharmaceuticals — drugs bearing a radioactive tracer. Her work has particularly made progress in imaging cardiovascular disease and tumors, with an emphasis in cardiovascular nuclear medicine to study heart blood flow and metabolism in disease conditions, and the effects of cocaine and hypertension.

For example, in 1985, Som developed the technique of using monoclonal antibodies labeled with radiopharmaceuticals to image thrombi, blood clots on the damaged walls of blood vessels that can cause heart attacks. These monoclonal antibodies — highly specific proteins made in the laboratory — bind with blood cells called platelets, which are abundant in thrombi. Once the binding takes place, the tracer emits radiation that can be detected to form an image of the clot.

One advantage of this new technique is that blood clots can be seen in about one-and-a-half hours, rather than the 24-to-48 hours required by the conventional clot-detecting test that uses platelets labeled with a radioisotope.

Under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, Som worked with RhoMed, Inc., a pharmaceutical company in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The aim of this cooperative research was to design and evaluate synthetic peptides — compounds that consist of several amino acids — for noninvasive diagnostic imaging of pathological conditions, such as thrombosis, pulmonary disease, and inflammation. Success in this project could lead to the development of a new generation of radiopharmaceuticals for use in radiology and nuclear medicine.

While pursuing her research, Som has also tutored numerous high school, college,and postgraduate students at BNL. In addition, she is a professor of radiology at Stony Brook University. In 1993, Som received Japan’s Tohoku Medical Society Award for valuable contributions to medical science.

On the Brookhaven Town honor, Som commented, “I would like to thank my peers and collaborators, and, in particular, Brookhaven Women in Science for nominating me for this award. I am grateful that my parents encouraged me and my siblings — four sisters and three brothers — to pursue our education. Also, I am indebted to my students or sharing their insights with me. Finally, I would like to thank Brookhaven Town for this honor and for encouraging women to fulfill their potential.”

DOE Laboratory Technology Transfer Award

In April 1998, Prantika Som won one of four awards received by BNL researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) under the Laboratory Technology Research Program, for work in the areas of biotechnology and advanced materials research. The chosen projects supported high-risk, multidisciplinary, cost-shared research partnerships with industry to investigate scientific problems with solutions that had promising commercial potential.

DOE’s awards supported the national laboratories’ research, while their industry partners supported their own research and often provided equipment or funds to the laboratories. Industry expected to provide $17.5 million in private funding for the three-year partnership programs.

The projects were chosen by peer review on the basis of their scientific and technical merit and commercial potential. In addition to BNL, other national laboratories that received awards were: Argonne, Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge (ORNL) and Pacific Northwest.

As BNL Principal Researcher for her project, which was to develop radioactive stents that would prevent reformation of arterial blockage after coronary balloon angioplasty, Som teamed with collaborators from ORNL, the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and InnerDyne, Inc., of Sunnyvale, California. The DOE investment in this research totaled $656,550 shared by BNL and ORNL, and both laboratories shared $840,000 from InnerDyne.

On a personal note

On a personal level, Prantika was soft in nature. She was always humble about her achievements in producing many of the radiopharmaceutical agents that are currently being used in imaging technologies. Her sincerity, tenderness, love and concern for others, warmth and generosity will be missed by all those who were fortunate enough to have known and worked with her. Below is a remembrance from Patricia, daughter of Don Sacker, who served as technical support for Prantika during her many years at BNL:

“Prantika has been a part of our family since my brother and I were young kids growing up in Mattituck. Both of our parents spent their careers at BNL, and we were fortunate to meet many of their friends and colleagues over the years. Prantika has always been at the hub of this circle. Our dad worked closely with her, and he will always fondly refer to her as “Boss”. She was a dear and loyal friend to both of our parents. But to my brother and me, she will always be Pran, the most generous and kind soul who never missed a milestone in our lives--from birthdays and graduations, to our weddings in Virginia and Oregon, to the births of our children across the country. One of my first memories of Pran was when she holed up with our family during a winter snowstorm in Mattituck years ago. It takes a special person to choose to be housebound with two sometimes rambunctious children for several days. My most recent memory of Pran is when she joined us on a family trip to Maui three years ago. She was so delighted to be there with us, and she took such joy in watching our children, who were about the same age as we were when Pran entered our lives.

“She died the way she lived, with humility and grace, on her own terms, and with a selflessness that I can only hope to achieve in my lifetime. Knowing Pran, she didn’t want to trouble anyone with her illness and death. For those of us who loved her, her passing is a shock which leaves such a void, a beautiful life cut short too soon. We can take comfort in knowing she will live on in the memories of all of her friends--this tiny woman from India with the brilliant mind, the great laugh, and the heart of pure gold.

“We will all miss this intellectual individual, her candid opinions on critical questions and finally her love, concern, and friendship. Her character will continue to inspire and be an example to those of us who knew her well.”

Last Modified: March 22, 2011