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MU Radiopharmaceutical Sciences Institute Director Receives National Honor

Wynn Volkert is known for his achievements in radiotherapeutic drug invention

The Radiopharmaceutical Sciences Council of the Society of Nuclear Medicine has selected Wynn Volkert, PhD, MU Curators’ Professor Emeritus of Radiology, Biochemistry and Chemistry, as the inaugural recipient of the Michael J. Welch Award. Volkert accepted the award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the field of radiopharmaceutical sciences, at the 2009 Society of Nuclear Medicine Conference in Toronto.




University Researchers Awarded Grants for Education

COLUMBIA , Mo. ­- With the goal of improving treatment in arthritis, preventing heart disease, and developing better nuclear science education programs, University of Missouri-Columbia researchers won $10.5 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The U.S. Department of Education awarded Jerry Parker, clinical professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and director of Behavioral Health at Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital , with a $4 million, 5-year grant in an effort to develop the Missouri Arthritis Rehabilitation Research and Training Center . The project researchers have several goals including the development of an online self-management program for older adults, researching what types of exercise and physical fitness are best for individuals with knee osteoarthritis, developing an arthritis prevention and self-management curriculum for migrant workers, and developing a national strategic communication campaign.

“Arthritis is an often misunderstood and potentially disabling condition, which diminishes the quality of life for millions of Americans,” Parker said. “More than seven million people in the United States report limitations due to arthritis, and each year, arthritis causes 44 million outpatient visits and costs approximately $21.7 billion in medical care. This disease will continue to incapacitate millions of people in the future, it is imperative that we build a program that can combat the effects of arthritis.”

The second grant was a $3.5 million, 5-year award from the National Institutes of Health for research on coronary artery disease. MU researchers Harold Laughlin and Ed Rucker will investigate the activities of a gene that could be important in maintaining artery health. The group also will determine whether the gene is affected by regular exercise. According to the American Heart Association's website, the United States ranks sixth for women and seventh for men in the number who die from cardiovascular disease.

“Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in the United States ,” said Laughlin, a professor and chair of veterinary biomedical sciences. “We'll be using the pig as a model for our research because pigs' vascular system is very similar to humans. Some of our research will be looking at whether we can produce the enzyme that the gene produces in order to build healthier arteries.”

Laughlin said the recent announcement of a new swine resource research center, along with the demonstrated expertise to diagnose the effects of exercise on the human body were the reasons that MU was awarded the grant.

Rounding out the awards, the U.S. Department of Energy presented a 5-year, $3 million grant to the Nuclear Sciences and Engineering Institute (NSEI) and Wynn Volkert, professor of radiology and interim director of NSEI , in order to form the Midwest Nuclear Science and Engineering Consortium. The consortium, which will include the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the University of Missouri-Rolla , the Advanced Technology Center and the Polytecnic University of Puerto Rico will work to enhance undergraduate and graduate nuclear science education, expand a nuclear sciences minor for undergraduates, facilitate innovative use of the MU Research Reactor (MURR), and develop interdisciplinary outreach education and research programs. This Center grant was one of six total awards by the DOE in the country.

“There is a nationwide shortage of nuclear scientists and engineers in the country and this will not bode well for a variety of fields such as radioenvironmentalists, radiochemists and health physicists in the future,” Volkert said. “Our goal is to provide structure for research and education through a large collaboration with researchers and educators across the country. The strength of the nuclear and radiation sciences on the MU campus, the exceptional national stature of MURR, and the support of Sen. Kit Bond were important factors that made us competitive for this award”.




MU Awarded Cancer Research Contract

COLUMBIA, Mo. - The National Cancer Institute (NCI), an institute within the prestigious National Institutes of Health, announced today that the University of Missouri-Columbia will receive a $10 million grant to create the Center for Single Photon-Emitting Cancer Imaging Agents. The award is one of the largest research grants received by MU from a peer-reviewed, government resource, and will allow researchers at MU and the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital to lead the nation in new, innovative methods of cancer detection and treatment.

"This award emphasizes MU's unique research strengths," said Jim Coleman, vice provost for research. "This shows what can be accomplished through a combination of great researchers such as Dr. Volkert, exceptional research facilities such the MU Research Reactor, strong relationships with partners such as the Truman VA Hospital, and the tireless work of Sen. Kit Bond who helped secure funds to develop the necessary research infrastructure. The net result of this strategic combination is that MU has moved into a national leadership role in this competitive field."

The grant strengthens a formal agreement between MU and the Truman Veterans Hospital to build a premiere cancer-imaging center. Primary space for the center will be housed in the 9,000-square-foot radiopharmaceuticals laboratory located on the lowest level of the new outpatient center at the Truman Veterans Hospital. Wynn Volkert, professor of radiology and leader of the project, said the recent development of the radiopharmaceuticals lab, made possible by a $4 million federal appropriation procured by Sen. Bond, was one reason the NCI chose MU rather than Stanford University or Duke University.

"I am very pleased that the initial $4 million investment that I secured allowed MU to win this $10 million cancer research contract," Sen. Bond said. "This announcement underscores that MU is increasingly capable of competing for and winning front-line, big-dollar research contracts."

Radiopharmaceuticals are radioactive drugs that help doctors detect, diagnose and treat diseases. Doctors inject molecules labeled with radioisotopes into a patient. These molecules target certain tissue based on the specific molecular structure of the radiopharmaceutical. Once the radioactive material reaches its target - whether it's the heart, liver, brain or a tumor - specialized instrumentation produces images of the material that helps physicians obtain important diagnostic information.

Built adjacent to the clinical nuclear medicine lab at the Truman Veterans Hospital, the radiopharmaceuticals lab contains equipment that will allow researchers to synthesize and characterize new molecular entities in vitro and in vivo through animal testing. The ultimate goal is translation of the research into human clinical trials.

"It's really a bench-to-bedside approach," said Volkert, who also is director of the MU Radiopharmaceuticals Sciences Institute (RSI).

University researchers from various fields who work collaboratively to develop new cancer treatments and the unique capabilities of the MU Research Reactor, which allows for the production of radio-pharmaceuticals, were other reasons the NCI chose MU, Volkert said. Through this interdisciplinary approach, MU established the RSI and has built a reputation as a center for research in radiopharmaceuticals, which are radioactive drugs that help doctors detect, diagnose and treat diseases. Volkert said the MU researchers have specifically focused their efforts on radioactive drugs that treat cancer.

"One reason we've been so successful is that we've been as good as anyone at designing radioactive-labeled drugs for targeting cancerous tumors," Volkert said.

RSI researchers have already developed three cancer drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration for human use. Ceretec is a diagnostic drug that provides images of blood flow in the brain. Quadramet relieves pain for individuals who suffer from bone cancer, and TheraSphere is a radioisotope used in the treatment of inoperable liver cancer.

The five-year award - $2 million per year - will fund five primary research projects and developmental projects designed to complement the primary projects. The grant also includes a career-development component to fund training for post-doctorate, graduate and undergraduate students. Scores of researchers - radiologists, biochemists, hematologists, oncologists and pharmacologists - from the MU School of Medicine and the Truman Veterans Hospital will participate in the project, which will also include scientists from the MU College of Arts and Science, College of Veterinary Medicine, Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute and the MU Research Reactor.



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