Path B: Initial Vanderbilt Tracer Research

Vanderbilt was among the early Institutions that foresaw the important role radiation research would play in science and medicine. Physics Professors worked in the Manhattan project, mainly at Columbia University. while maintaining active collaborations with the Oak Ridge Laboratories. The Medical School took the lead in 1943 and recruited two researcher scientists trained at the University of Rochester in the use of radioactive tracers . Paul Hahn was 7 years beyond his PhD but was already a recognized expert based on his pioneering studies on iron metabolism, the subject of his PhD in Chemistry (1936, U. Rochester). He joined the Vanderbilt Biochemistry Department as an Assistant Professor. George Meneely  joined as an Instructor in Medicine. He was an Internist who had been trained by Hahn at Rochester in the us of radiotracers. Hahn’s expertise with 59Fe led to his inclusion in ongoing research on elemental and nutritional requirements during pregnancy. Meneely started working in the heart and lung clinics. The radioisotope program in the Medical School grew under Meneely’s leadership from 1943- 1948 when a joint program with the Nashville Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital was established. Meneely was the Head of the Vanderbilt Radioisotope Unit, and the clinical and  research operations at the VA. Research collaboration continued with VU scientists who became Consultants to the VA.

→ Related National Developments: The formation of the AEC in 1947 resulted in the expansion of biomedical and radiation biology research at the National Laboratories (Oak Ridge, Brookhaven, Los Alamos, Hanford, and Berkeley), along with major University programs at Harvard/MIT, UCLA, University of Chicago, Western Reserve (Cleveland), and the University of Rochester. Vanderbilt’s proximity to Oak Ridge resulted in our being asked to organize a course on new uses of radiation in medicine, a one week series of lectures and demonstrations in April 1947 on “The use of Radioactive Isotopes as Tracers and Therapeutic Agents”. The course was organized by Paul Hahn with a heavy emphasis on therapy. The speakers at the course included many of the luminaries in the field. Chancellor, Harvie Branscomb, and Dean Ernest Goodpasture led off the program (click here for the program outline).

The Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Sciences (ORINS) and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), pioneered in the development of biomedical applications of radioactive materials. The nuclear medicine program at ORINS was led by Marcel Brucer.Vanderbilt enjoyed close ties with the Oak Ridge programs. The current embodiment of ORINS is the Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU). ORAU has grown to a Consortium of 91 Universities in the South East region of the United States with educational and research missions. Vanderbilt faculty has served for many years in leadership roles on the Executive Committee guiding the Consortium. In 2004 Vanderbilt joined six other Universities as University Partners on the Board of the ORNL which is now jointly managed by the Battelle Corp and the University of Tennessee.          In 1946, Ernest Goodpasture, Chairman of Pathology, and then Dean of the Vanderbilt Medical School served as one of the 7 members of the Advisory Committee to the AEC for “Applications of Atomic Energy to Medicine and Biology”. The Committee was chaired by the Shields Warren, a distinguished Harvard pathologist, the first Head of the Division of Biology and Medicine of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Goodpasture served as Vice Chair of the Committee from 1946-1952. Vanderbilt, thus had a seat at the table when nuclear medicine’s  foundations were in progress. In 1951.  Both Goodpasture and Warren stepped down from the Advisory Committee in 1952, at which time John Bugher became Head of the Division of Biology and Medicine and Chuck Dunham replaced him in 1957/58. They provided strong leadership over the biomedical program, supported on the by the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy (Chaired ably by, Rep. Chet Holifield (D-CA).

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