Brookhaven Lab's Joanna Fowler to Receive the National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemical Sciences

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Joanna Fowler, Director of the Radiotracer Chemistry, Instrumentation and Biological Imaging Program at the Brookhaven Lab

UPTON, NY — Joanna Fowler, Director of the Radiotracer Chemistry, Instrumentation and Biological Imaging Program at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, will be honored with the National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemical Sciences on April 26, at the Academy’s 146th annual meeting in Washington, DC. Fowler will receive a medal and prize of $15,000 supported by the Merck Company Foundation for her innovative research in the chemical sciences that contributes to the better understanding of the natural sciences and to the benefit of humanity.

Established by the U.S. Congress in 1863, the Academy is a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to the furtherance of science and its use for the general welfare. Upon request, the Academy is an official advisor to the federal government in any matter of science or technology.

“I am honored to be a member of the National Academy of Sciences and delighted to receive this award, which recognizes how research in chemistry can have a significant impact on human health,” Fowler said.

Fowler was cited “for exceptional accomplishments in the synthesis of positron-emitting chemical probes, and for their implementation in biomedical imaging and studies of in vivo biochemistry, which have had a major impact on human health worldwide.”

Fowler’s current research focuses on using a medical imaging technique called positron emission tomography (PET) to study the brain circuits that are disrupted during drug addiction. Some of her early studies include imaging the uptake and movement of cocaine in the human brain, which shed light on why the drug is so powerfully addictive. She is also involved in PET studies to understand the action of therapeutic drugs and facilitate the introduction of new drugs into the practice of medicine.

Fowler’s recent work is centered on variations in MAO genes and how they affect personality and vulnerability to psychiatric disorders. In earlier research, she discovered that cigarette smokers have reduced levels of monoamine oxidase (MAO), an enzyme that breaks down dopamine, the neurotransmitter that mediates reward, motivation and movement. This finding may account for the high rate of smoking in individuals who are depressed or addicted to drugs.

In 1976, Fowler and her colleagues synthesized 18F-flouorodeoxyglucose (FDG), a radiotracer used in PET. Today, FDG is widely used in hospitals and research centers throughout the world for studying the brain and diagnosing cancer.

After earning a B.A. in chemistry at the University of South Florida in 1964 and a Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Colorado in 1967, Fowler carried out postdoctoral research at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, England, and at Brookhaven Lab. Joining the Laboratory in 1969, Fowler has spent her entire career at Brookhaven.

Fowler’s honors include the Society of Nuclear Medicine’s Paul Aebersold Award and the Department of Energy’s E. O. Lawrence Award, both received in 1997; the American Chemical Society’s Francis P. Garvin-John M. Olin Medal in 1998; and the Glen T. Seaborg Award in 2002. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2004, and earlier this year she was inducted into the Long Island Technology Hall of Fame. Fowler has published about 350 peer-reviewed articles and holds eight patents for radiolabeling procedures.

Fowler’s research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which provides infrastructure support for technology development, and the National Institutes of Health.

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