Joanna Fowler, Ph.D., a major contributor to brain research and a pioneer in molecular imaging, will be awarded the National Medal of Science, the highest award this country bestows for lifetime achievement in science.
A senior chemist and director of the radiotracer chemistry, instrumentation, and biological imaging program at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, NY, Fowler was a member of the research team that in 1976 first synthesized fluorine-18 fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG), the workhorse radiotracer for PET/CT imaging.
More recently, Fowler employed PET in a series of experiments that uncovered the physiology of cocaine and methamphetamine addiction. Similar investigations by Fowler on dopamine and dopamine transporters led to important insights into the cause and possible treatment of Parkinson's disease.
Her work includes studies on how variations in a certain gene may affect personality and vulnerability to psychiatric disorders. A chief discovery from this work is that cigarette smokers have reduced levels of monoamine oxidase (MAO), an enzyme that breaks down dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter that mediates reward, motivation, and movement. Her work in this area could have implications for the high incidence of people suffering from depression or addiction to drugs who smoke.
Fowler has published about 350 peer-reviewed articles and holds eight patents for radiolabeling procedures. She has been a strong advocate for continued funding of nuclear medicine research at the Department of Energy.
Eight other researchers will receive awards with Fowler at a White House ceremony on Oct. 7.
The National Medal of Science was created in 1959 and is administered by the National Science Foundation. The award is given annually to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to science and engineering.