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Joanna S. Fowler

Joanna S. Fowler, a senior chemist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the Director of Brookhaven’s Center for Translational Neuroimaging, has been named the 2005 recipient of the Distinguished Basic Scientist of the Year Award from the Academy of Molecular Imaging.


Early life and education

Fowler received her Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Colorado and did her postdoctoral work at the University of East Anglia in England and at Brookhaven. She is also an Adjunct Professor in the Chemistry and Biomedical Engineering departments at Stony Brook University.


In 1976, Fowler and her colleagues designed and synthesized a radioactively “tagged” form of sugar that is now used widely to study brain function and also to diagnose and plan treatment for cancer. She also developed another radiotracer, as these “tagged” molecules are called, that first showed that cocaine’s distribution in the human brain parallels its effects on behavior.

Another of her major accomplishments was the development of radiotracers to map monoamine oxidase (MAO), a brain enzyme that regulates the levels of other nerve-cell communication chemicals. Using these radiotracers, she discovered that smokers have reduced levels of MAO in their brains. This may account for some of the behavioral and epidemiological features of smoking, such as the high rate of smoking in individuals with depression and drug addiction, two conditions involving poor nerve-cell communication.

“It has been a privilege for me to be associated with an outstanding group of collaborators throughout my career and to have the longstanding support of the Department of Energy, which has nurtured the development of new imaging technologies that have had a major impact on human health,” Fowler said. “I am especially dedicated to using imaging to understand addictive disorders, which place an enormous burden on families and on the health care system.”

The imaging technologies used in Fowler’s studies are a direct outgrowth of the Department of Energy’s long-standing investment in basic physics and chemistry research. Through work on accelerators designed to answer questions about the fundamental nature of matter and energy, pioneering DOE scientists understood and realized the potential to develop these miraculous tools for the diagnosis and treatment of disease. The ongoing research using these tools to investigate drug addiction and other diseases of the brain is a prime example of how our national laboratories bring together the expertise of chemists, physicists, and medical professionals to address questions of profound significance for society.


Fowler's research has led to fundamental new knowledge, important scientific tools and broad impact in the application of nuclear medicine to diagnostics and health. She has worked for much of her career developing radiotracers for brain imaging to understand the mechanisms underlying drug addiction. Most recently, she has been engaged in developing methods to understand the relationship between genes, brain chemistry and behavior.

Fowler played a central role in the development of a fluorine-18-labeled glucose molecule (FDG) enabling human brain glucose metabolism to be measured noninvasively. This positron?emitting molecule, together with positron emission tomography (PET) imaging, has become a mainstay for brain-imaging studies in schizophrenia, aging and cancer. Fowler's interest in monoamine oxidase (MAO), one of the two major enzymes involved in neurotransmitter regulation in the brain and peripheral organs, led her to develop the first radiotracers for imaging MAO in the human brain and in peripheral organs like the lungs and kidneys. This led to the discovery that smokers have reduced brain and lung MAO and to many studies relating reduced MAO to some of the behavioral and epidemiological features of smoking.


Fowler's scientific excellence and achievements have been recognized by prestigious awards, including the Society of Nuclear Medicine?s Paul C. Aebersold Award for outstanding achievement in basic science. Fowler, who has been with Brookhaven since 1969, was elected to the National Academies of Science in 2004.

Selections were made following external peer review of applications based on evidence of sustained scientific excellence, significant scientific achievements, honors and awards, quality of peer-reviewed publications in high impact journals, number of publications, research relevance to programmatic goals in BER and recommendations from individuals at non-affiliated institutions.


In 2003, Fowler was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Her numerous other honors include the American Chemical Society’s Glen T. Seaborg Award for Nuclear and Radiochemistry (2002), the Society of Nuclear Imaging in Drug Development’s Alfred P. Wolf Award (2000), the Department of Energy’s E.O. Lawrence Award (1999), and the Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal in 1998. Joanna S. Fowler, Ph.D., was recently awarded one of four Distinguished Scientist Fellowships sponsored by the Department of Energy's Office of Biological and Environmental Research. Fowler, a chemist at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., will receive $250,000 per year for up to five years.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Joanna_S._Fowler". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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