Path B: Introduction

Vanderbilt was among the early Institutions that anticipated the important role radioactive tracers would play in medicine. Physics faculty who worked in the Manhattan project, at Columbia University and at Oak Ridge saw the scientific possibilities. Medical faculty also were made aware of the medical potential based on contacts with the University of Rochester/Berkeley collaboration . Vanderbilt in 1943 recruited two researchers trained in the use of radioactive tracers from Rochester. Paul Hahn was  7 years beyond his PhD but was even then a recognized expert in iron metabolism based on his studies using radioactive iron they received from the Berkeley cyclotron. Paul  completed his PhD in Chemistry (1936, U. Rochester), working with the famous physician George Whipple. Whipple and Hahn received the first shipments of 59Fe from Berkeley to study iron metabolism in anemic dogs (published in 1938 with Ernest Lawrence). Whipple’s knowledge of the Berkeley cyclotron operations and the biomedical prospects arose during his long role as consultant to the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) that funded the series of Berkeley cyclotrons. Vanderbilt’s long standing ties with Rochester are witnessed by their having shared RF funding since the 1920s for the construction of their new Medical Hospital buildings, which even shared a common architectural plan. Whipple (Dean and Nobel Laureate Hematologist at Rochester) likely shared his excitement about the medical potential applications of radioactive tracers like  59Fe with Ernest Goodpasture (eminent Pathologist and Dean at Vanderbilt) following Hahn’s research that suggested many  future important medical applications of radiotracers.

The first radiotracer studies tests using cyclotron-produced tracers began in 1937 at Berkeley (UCB) using biologically relevant elements in small laboratory animals.  These were shortly thereafter tested  in small numbers of patients in collaboration with University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) clinicians. Contemporaneous thyroid radioiodine testing was done at MIT/Harvard/MGH. Early biomedical tests using radioisotopes were also performed by de Hevesy in Copenhagen (Bohr Institute) using material from Berkeley, augmented by what they produced locally using a large mixed neutron source (also supported in part by RF funding). The scope expanded in 1938 when MIT, Rochester, and Ohio State  decided to  build their own “medical cyclotrons”. For thyroid research, most researchers used 130I, and later 131I. Starting around  1939 leading research centers in NY (Memorial, and Mt. Sinai Hospitals, and Columbia University),  Boston (Mass General Hospital/MIT) and Copenhagen (Bohr/de Hevesy) received shipments from Lawrence to explore new diagnostic and therapeutic medical uses.

The Vanderbilt program started in 1943 when Paul Hahn joined the Vanderbilt Biochemistry Department as an Assistant Professor. He came to Nashville along with George Meneely, a young Internist with radiotracer experience gained while mentored by Hahn at Rochester.

Related Local and National Developments: The formation of the Atomic Energy Agency (AEC) in 1947 was followed by a rapid expansion of biological and medical radiation research at the National Laboratories (Oak Ridge, Brookhaven, Los Alamos, Hanford, and Berkeley), along with AECl-supported University programs at Harvard/MIT, UCLA, University of Chicago, Western Reserve (Cleveland), and the University of Rochester. Vanderbilt’s proximity to Oak Ridge (OR) resulted in Hahn being asked to organize a one-week series of lectures and demonstrations in April 1947  in collaboration with OR  on “The use of Radioactive Isotopes as Tracers and Therapeutic Agents”. Paul Hahn organized the course with an emphasis on therapy, his major interest and view for the future. The speakers at the course included many  luminaries in the field. Chancellor, Harvie Branscomb, and Dean, Ernest Goodpasture led off the program (click hahn_program 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. Marcel Brucer led the biomedical program at ORINS. Vanderbilt has had close ties with the Oak Ridge programs from the beginning. The current embodiment of ORINS is as 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 was then jointly managed by the Battelle Corp, and the University of Tennessee.

In 1946, Ernest Goodpasture served as one of the 7 members of the Advisory Committee to the AEC for “Applications of Atomic Energy to Medicine and Biology”.  Shields Warren, a famous Harvard pathologist, and the first Head of the Division of Biology and Medicine of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), chaired the Committee. Goodpasture served as Vice Chair of the Committee from 1946-1952. Both Goodpasture and Warren stepped down from the Advisory Committee in 1952, when John Bugher became Head of the Division of Biology and Medicine and Charles Dunham replaced him in 1957/58. They provided strong leadership over the biomedical program, supported and monitored by the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy (Chaired ably by, Rep. Chet Holifield (D-CA).

NextArrowBackArrow Back to Path Era 2: 1930s-1980s
Next to Path B: Initial Vanderbilt Tracer Research