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January 23, 2002

Electronic newsroom


Brookhaven Lab Scientist Wins Glenn T. Seaborg Award for Nuclear Chemistry

UPTON, NY - Joanna Fowler, a senior chemist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, has won the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) 2002 Glenn T. Seaborg Award for Nuclear Chemistry. The award, which includes $3,000 and a citation certificate, will be presented to Fowler at the ACS national meeting, April 7-11, in Orlando, Florida.

The award citation honors Fowler “for her pioneering contributions to positron emission tomography [PET], including the development of fluorine-18-fluorodeoxyglucose [FDG], a radiotracer used worldwide for measuring brain function and for diagnosing cancer; and for the development of tracers for monoamine oxidase [MAO] found to be reduced in the brains of smokers.”

PET is a research and diagnostic tool that enables researchers to see images of the brain as it functions. In studies with her colleagues using PET, Fowler has made major contributions to the understanding of biochemical processes in addiction, aging and drug action.

“I am honored to receive this award,” said Fowler. “My career as a chemist has taken me on many rewarding paths. There is still so much to uncover concerning the human brain and its diseases, such as addiction. PET and other imaging tools at Brookhaven will help my colleagues and me to continue to investigate these major medical problems.”

To document changes in the brain, a PET research subject is injected with a short-lived radiotracer that is attached to one of a number of compounds that bind to specific brain sites. In 1976, Fowler and her colleagues developed FDG, which is the most widely used radiotracer today. FDG is currently used in PET centers to diagnose and study neurological and psychiatric diseases, to aid in the treatment of heart disease, and to diagnose cancer.

In addiction studies at Brookhaven, Fowler was the first to show the binding sites of cocaine in the human brain. Fowler has also developed radiotracers for mapping the enzyme MAO, a molecular target of drugs used to treat depression and Parkinson’s disease. With her colleagues, Fowler discovered that smokers, who are less prone to Parkinson’s disease, have an average of 40 percent less MAO than nonsmokers. MAO breaks down dopamine, a brain chemical that is important in movement, motivation and reward.

As head of Brookhaven’s PET Research Group, Fowler has helped the Laboratory’s PET facility gain worldwide renown for its forefront discoveries. She has also been active in bringing Brookhaven’s Center for Imaging and Neurosciences to fruition. Researchers at the center use PET and magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the workings of the human brain.

Fowler earned a BS. in chemistry from the University of South Florida, Tampa, in 1964, and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1967. After working as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of East Anglia, England, in 1968, Fowler joined Brookhaven Lab in 1969.

Fowler’s many honors include: the Jacob Javits Investigator Award in the Neurosciences in 1986 (with the late Alfred Wolf, who had been a senior chemist at Brookhaven) and in 1992, the ACS’s Esselen Award for Chemistry in the Public Interest in 1988, Brookhaven’s R&D Award in 1994, the Society of Nuclear Medicine’s Paul Aebersold Award in 1997, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) E. O. Lawrence Award in 1997, DOE’s and National Research Council’s Biological & Environmental Research 50 Program Recognition Award for Exceptional Service in 1997, and the ACS’s Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal in 1998.

Among her professional activities, Fowler is on the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Board of Directors of the Society for Nuclear Imaging in Drug Research. She has published more than 250 papers in peer-reviewed journals, and she holds eight patents for radiolabeling procedures.

NOTE TO LOCAL EDITORS: Joanna Fowler is a resident of Bellport, NY.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies. Brookhaven also builds and operates major facilities available to university, industrial, and government scientists. The Laboratory is managed by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited liability company founded by Stony Brook University and Battelle, a nonprofit applied science and technology organization.