The University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine, Knoxville

Preclinical and Diagnostic Molecular Imaging Laboratory

Preclinical and Diagnostic Molecular Imaging Laboratory

The Preclinical and Diagnostic Molecular Imaging Laboratory (PDMIL) is a small animal imaging facility dedicated to the study of disease and the development and evaluation of novel treatments and diagnostic techniques. The aim of the laboratory is to facilitate the translation of novel therapies and diagnostic agents into patients by providing proof-of-principle data in animal models of disease, as required by the US Food and Drug Administration. The laboratory focuses on research into amyloid-associated disorders, cancer, atherosclerosis and diagnostic veterinary imaging.

The facility, directed by Jonathan S. Wall, PhD, has four scanning suites currently housing PET/SPECT/CT imaging platforms, and a state-of-the-art integrated tri-modality PET/SPECT/CT imaging platforms, as well as Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC)-accredited, long-term satellite animal holding rooms, conference facilities and laboratory workspace. In addition to Dr. Wall, the research performed in the PDMIL is facilitated byl, Stephen J. Kennel, PhD, Alan Stuckey, BA, CNMT, Tina Richey, MS, Emily Martin, BS, Angela Williams, MS, Sallie Macy, BS, and Craig Wooliver, MLT.

Jonathan Wall, PhD, selected as Knoxville News Sentinel 2015 Health Care Hero

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Intrinsic Factors of Discovery

In 1928, when George Minot, MD, assumed his position as the second director of the Thorndike Memorial Laboratory at Boston City Hospital, he pledged to maintain an atmosphere that allowed "opportunities for freedom of thought and open discussion." Because of its work, this lab is now considered to be the birthplace of modern hematology. Jonathan Wall, PhD, Professor in the Human Immunology and Cancer Program at the UTGSM, and the director of basic science research for the Department of Medicine runs that kind of lab. The walls along the laboratory hallway are lined with multicolored posters presented at meetings all over the world; each poster, every presentation, reams of journal articles and book chapters documenting incremental progress toward understanding the pathogenesis of primary (AL) amyloidosis.

Building on this, Wall's team was instrumental in performing the "firstin-human" clinical trial studying a radio-iodinated monoclonal antibody that detected light chain amyloidosis by PET scan. Their latest imaging agent is a protein that seeks and binds to amyloid. In addition to creating better PET scan images, it has the potential to serve a therapeutic role for patients with amyloidosis, Alzheimer's disease, and Type II diabetes. This expertise was recently acknowledged by an NIH grant that will help fund the program for the next four years. Steve Kennel, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine and Radiology, transitioned from the Biology Division at Oak Ridge National Labs to the DOM basic sciences division nearly ten years ago, bringing with him a wealth of experience in creating radioisotope delivery systems for the treatment of cancer.

The Thorndike atmosphere is especially apparent between Wall and Kennel. They oxygenate their ideas with each other, debating their plausibility while simultaneously designing an experiment to confirm or refute it. Kennel and Wall are quick to give credit to each other, but they both are proud of their committed team of co-investigators. This team is an unusually specialized group of talented people, each with unique and indispensable talents that are vitally important to the success of this research.

Less than a century ago, B12 deficiency was a lethal illness. William B. Castle, MD, another hematology icon, built on Dr. Minot's work and reversed the bone marrow failure of pernicious anemia by feeding his patients beef steak that was partially digested in the stomachs of impoverished medical students. He concluded that the result was due to a then unknown "intrinsic factor" present in the students gastric juices that was absent in his patients. Now, this once deadly disease is little more than a nuisance. An atmosphere of freedom to think and opportunities for discussion is alive and well in at UTGSM. It is a lot to imagine, but the work performed here in the shadows of the Smoky Mountains may someday render many fatal illnesses curable.


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