Contact: Kara Villamil, or Mona S. Rowe

Issued 3/24/98



Sophisticated lab will allow further innovation to aid research and diagnosis


UPTON, NY - The U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory today unveiled renovated chemistry labs that will help brain researchers go even further in their studies of drug addiction, aging and mental illness.

The $2.2 million overhaul, performed by a local firm, Frendolph Construction of Hauppauge, NY, gives chemists in BNL's Center for Imaging and Neurosciences more sophisticated equipment and 50 percent more workspace than before.

Using the renovated labs, the chemists will be able to pursue their forefront studies in radiotracer chemistry research and development, and the production of radiotracers used in brain imaging studies at Brookhaven.

"Radiotracer chemistry is at the heart of our ability to image and understand the function of the human brain," said Joanna Fowler, the chemist who leads BNL's radiotracer team. "This new laboratory will keep Brookhaven scientists in the forefront in the development of new radiotracers which can be applied to problems in medicine."

BNL chemists are world leaders in the field of attaching very short-lived radioisotopes to chemical compounds, creating radiotracers that make it possible to see biochemical activity and drug action in the human brain with a medical imaging technology called Positron Emission Tomography, or PET. The radioisotopes are made at BNL's Cyclotron, a small, room-size particle accelerator, then brought into the nearby lab, where chemists purify them and attach them to biologically active molecules.

For example, by attaching a fleetingly radioactive form of fluorine to glucose, BNL chemists provided physicians with a simple means of tracking brain metabolism - and therefore brain activity. The radiotracer, known as 18FDG, has become the standard radiotracer for PET scans that are used to diagnose cancer and other diseases in hospitals around the world.

Brookhaven's research mainly focuses on creating new labeled biomolecules that are used in studies that seek basic understanding of how aging, mental illness, and drugs including cocaine, alcohol and tobacco affect the human brain. A major focus has been dopamine, a communications chemical or neurotransmitter that carries signals of pleasure and other sensations through the brain.

For example, a recent study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry by the BNL team used the 18FDG radiotracer and the anti-anxiety drug Ativan to detect a sizable difference in the dopamine systems of cocaine addicts and non drug users - a difference that may help explain why addicts experience such strong cravings for cocaine.

Another study, using the drug raclopride labeled with carbon-11, found the first evidence linking degeneration in the brain's dopamine system with the decreases in motor function and mental agility that come with normal aging.

The new lab is a key element of a new regional neuroimaging center for drug abuse research funded by DOE, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, which funded BNL's new state-of-the-art PET scanner in Spring, 1997.

Brookhaven National Laboratory carries out basic and applied research in the physical, biomedical and environmental sciences and in selected energy technologies. Brookhaven is operated by Brookhaven Science Associates, a nonprofit research management organization, under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.