Abass Alavi, MD, and Steven Larson, MD, Receive 2012 Benedict Cassen Prize for Research in Nuclear Medicine

June 11, 2012

Abass Alavi, MD, and Steven Larson, MD, Receive 2012 Benedict Cassen Prize for Research in Nuclear Medicine

University of Pennsylvania and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center physicians honored for their contribution to development and growth of field

Embargoed until 10 A.M. EDT, Monday, June 11

Miami Beach, Fla.—Abass Alavi, MD, and Steven Larson, MD, known for their substantial research and contributions to the field of nuclear medicine, were awarded the  Benedict Cassen Prize during the Society of Nuclear Medicine’s (SNM) 2012 Annual Meeting in Miami Beach, Fla. This honor is given every two years by the Education and Research Foundation for SNM to living scientists or physician/scientists whose work has led to a major advance in basic or clinical nuclear medicine science.

“This year we have two very worthy recipients of the Cassen Prize,” stated Peter Conti, MD, PhD, FACNM. “We honor Dr. Alavi for his contributions inthe development of modern imaging techniques, including positron emission tomography, as revolutionary tools for conducting basic science research and improving patient care, as well as Dr. Larson for his research and leadership, which have advanced nuclear medicine science, especially in the uses of radionuclides for diagnosis and treatment of cancer.”

During a special plenary session at SNM’s Annual Meeting, Alavi and Larson each presented the Cassen Lectureship, which focused on the evolution of FDG-PET imaging techniques over the past three decades. Alavi discussed unparalleled contributions of FDG-PET imaging to medicine, while Larson addressed molecular imaging and therapy in advanced prostate and thyroid cancer.

Trained in internal medicine, hematology and nuclear medicine, Alavi is currently a professor of radiology and director of research education at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He has conducted pioneering research in modern imaging techniques including PET, single-photon emission-computed tomography (SPECT), computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

“I am very honored to be recognized by such a prestigious prize,” Alavi said. “I would like to share this great honor with my mentors, students and collaborators, without whom I could not have achieved this distinction. Ever since I entered medical school, I have searched for a specialty that would combine hard core sciences with the practice of medicine, and I found this combination best represented in the field of molecular imaging.”

Alavi earned his medical degree from the University of Tehran School of Medicine in 1964. He then traveled to the United States and completed residencies at the Albert Einstein Medical Center and the Veterans Administration Hospital, both in Philadelphia, Penn., as well as at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, Mass. He completed fellowships in hematology and in nuclear medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, also in Philadelphia.

During his career at the University of Pennsylvania, Alavi has been a prolific researcher, with his research activities supported primarily by the National Institutes of Health. He has published more than 900 scientific papers, more than 150 book chapters, editorials and reviews and 34 books, making him the most published and cited faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania. He has served in editorial positions for many journals and currently is the consulting editor for PET Clinics and editor in chief of Current Molecular Imaging and Advances in Bioscience and Biotechnology. Alavi has also mentored more than 140 trainees in nuclear medicine, some of whom are leaders in the field internationally.

Alavi has received numerous awards and designations recognizing his outstanding contributions to the field of nuclear medicine, including the SNM Georg Charles de Hevesy Nuclear Pioneer Award and the Berson-Yalow Award, the Fred Joliot Visiting Professorship at Orsay, France, and the Vic Haughton Honorary Lecture from the American Society of Functional Neuroradiology. He has received honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Bologna, Italy, and the University of the Sciences, Philadelphia.

Throughout his career Larson has emphasized translating laboratory discoveries and radiotracer development into clinical research and advanced nuclear medicine practice. His PET research has emphasized treatment response assessment, especially in prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, esophageal cancer and breast cancer.

“Since I was a student in the mid-1960s I have loved every minute of being a nuclear medicine physician and researcher. The combination of science and technology with patient care has made for an exciting career,” noted Larson. “Over the years I have had the benefit of working with supportive institutions and wonderful mentors, including Henry Wagner, Jr., MD, Wil Nelp, MD, and Hedvig Hricak, MD, PhD. I am grateful to them and countless other colleagues with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work.”

Larson is an attending physician in the Department of Radiology at Weill Cornell University Medical Center and a professor in the Department of Radiology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He is chief of nuclear medicine Service, vice chairman for radiology research, and director of the Laurent and Alberta Gerschel Positron Emission Tomography Center, and Donna & Benjamin M. Rosen chair in radiology in the Department of Radiology at Memorial Hospital in New York, NY.

Larson is also co-leader of the Imaging and Radiation Sciences Bridge Program (ImRas) at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He is laboratory head of the Molecular Pharmacology and Chemistry Program and co-director of the Ludwig Trust Center for Immunotherapy of Sloan Kettering Institute (SKI).  Additionally, Larson serves as chairman of the board of the Light of Life Foundation, a patient-centered thyroid cancer group dedicated to education of the public about thyroid cancer diagnosis and treatment.

At the University of Washington in Seattle, Wash., Larson earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Zoology, as well as his medical degree. He completed two fellowships at the University of Washington and was an intern and a resident at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle. For two years he also served as a clinical associate in the Department of Nuclear Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.

Over the years Larson has been awarded numerous honors including the Wylie Medal of the USFDA, SNM’s Wagner Lecture Award, the Georg Charles de Hevesy Awards of both the

European and the U.S. SNM, the Sarabhai lecture-medal of the Society of Nuclear Medicine, India, and the Pendergrass Award of the Radiologic Society of North America. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and is the 2007 Academy of Molecular Imaging Distinguished Clinician Scientist.

“Both Drs. Alavi and Larson have made significant contributions to the field of nuclear medicine and molecular imaging and have played a key role in advancing PET with FDG,” said George Segall, MD, SNM president. “We are very pleased to honor them with the Cassen Prize this year and look forward to learning from their research in years to come.”

The Cassen Prize, often considered the Nobel Prize of nuclear medicine, honors Benedict Cassen, whose invention of the rectilinear radioisotope scanner—the first instrument capable of making an image of radiotracer distribution in body organs of living patients—was seminal to the development of clinical nuclear medicine. Alavi and Larson are among the 12 individuals who have been presented this prestigious $25,000 award by the Education and Research Foundation for SNM since 1994.

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About SNM—Advancing Molecular Imaging and Therapy

SNM is an international scientific and medical organization dedicated to raising public awareness about what molecular imaging is and how it can help provide patients with the best health care possible. SNM members specialize in molecular imaging, a vital element of today’s medical practice that adds an additional dimension to diagnosis, changing the way common and devastating diseases are understood and treated.

SNM’s more than 17,000 members set the standard for molecular imaging and nuclear medicine practice by creating guidelines, sharing information through journals and meetings and leading advocacy on key issues that affect molecular imaging and therapy research and practice. For more information, visit www.snm.org.

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