Public Release: 

Michael E. Phelps, Ph.D., receives SNMMI 2015 Georg Charles de Hevesy Nuclear Pioneer Award

UCLA professor honored for groundbreaking development of positron emission tomography

Society of Nuclear Medicine

Baltimore, Md. (Embargoed until 10 a.m. EDT, June 7, 2015)--Michael E. Phelps, PhD, the Norton Simon professor and chair of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Department of Molecular & Medical Pharmacology, has been named this year's recipient of the Georg Charles de Hevesy Nuclear Pioneer Award for his contributions to nuclear medicine. Phelps was presented the award by SNMMI--an international scientific and medical organization--during its 2015 Annual Meeting, June 6-10 in Baltimore, Md.

Phelps has been affiliated with UCLA since 1976 and is actively engaged in medical research, educational programs and multimedia technologies at the university. In addition to serving as the chair of the Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology and as the Norton Simon Professor, Phelps is director of the Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging, professor of biomathematics and director of the Institute for Molecular Medicine.

"Mike Phelps has made major contributions to the field of nuclear medicine and molecular imaging for more than four decades," said SNMMI President Peter Herscovitch, MD, FACP, FRCPC. "When he invented the PET scanner, he ultimately changed the lives of millions of patients with cancer, brain disease, and heart disease. He also created a valuable tool for biomedical research that has helped to map the human brain and support the development of new pharmaceuticals."

Herscovitch pointed out, "He played a fundamental role in obtaining FDA approval and insurance coverage for FDG PET. He has made many novel contributions to molecular imaging, and as a teacher, he has mentored generations of physicians and scientists in our field. Mike is a true nuclear medicine pioneer. It is most appropriate that his numerous contributions be recognized with de Hevesy Nuclear Medicine Pioneer Award."

In the early 1970s, Phelps invented positron emission tomography (PET), a molecular imaging technique that uses an imaging device (PET scanner) and a radiolabeled probe to provide molecular imaging diagnostics of the biology of disease. His background in nuclear physics, chemistry and mathematics allowed him to make significant advances in biomedical imaging, specifically in regards to use of the PET scanner for imaging biological processes altered in disease, such a gene expression, metabolism, immune and hormonal systems and changes in cell signaling that transition normal cells to those of disease in patients. In 1973, he developed the first PET scanner with Edward Hoffman, PhD, at Washington University School of Medicine and led the field in clinical research to show the effectiveness of PET imaging in oncology, neurological disorders and cardio-vascular disease. Phelps established and directed the first clinical PET center at UCLA School of Medicine and has been instrumental in training basic scientists and medical professionals internationally in PET imaging. He led a national effort of faculty at U.S. medical schools to provide the evidence for Food and Drug Administration approval and federal and private insurance reimbursement for PET diagnostic in cancer, Alzheimer's, cardiovascular disease and epilepsy.

Today, PET benefits millions of patients each year as a safe, noninvasive and painless way to evaluate and manage the care of patients. There are more than 2,400 clinical PET centers in the United States and worldwide.

Phelps earned his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and mathematics from Western Washington State University in Bellingham, Wash., in 1965 and received his doctoral degree in chemistry from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., in 1970. He has published more than 720 scientific papers and four books and has received more than $350 million in research grants.

Multiple honors have been awarded to Phelps for his contributions to nuclear medicine. Among these awards are the 1978 and 1982 George Von Hevesy Prize from the Von Hevesy Foundation in Zurich, the 1983 Paul C. Aebersold Award from the Society of Nuclear Medicine, the 1984 Sarah L. Poiley Memorial Award from the New York Academy of Sciences, the 1984 Ernest O. Lawrence Presidential Award, the 1987 Rosenthal Foundation Award of the American College of Physicians, the 1992 Pasarow Foundation Award, and the 1998 Enrico Fermi Presidential Award from President Bill Clinton. Phelps chaired the 1983 Nobel Symposium and gave the keynote address at the 2012 Nobel Symposium, received the 2012 Gold Medal Award from World Molecular Imaging Society and was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 1985, as well as the National Academy of Sciences in 1999.

"It is with respect and appreciation that I accept the SNMMI 2015 Georg Charles de Hevesy Nuclear Pioneer Award," Phelps said. "I accept this award in representation of the hundreds of faculty, students and staff at UCLA who contributed to the research and clinical practice of PET. Added to this are the efforts of faculty from medical schools across our great country in producing the evidence for FDA approval and reimbursement," he continued. "This made it possible for molecular imaging diagnostics of the biology of disease with PET to improve outcomes for patients. All those involved over the years shared a common passion and belief in the value that would come from their relentless commitment to making PET a reality in science and medicine."

Each year, SNMMI presents the Georg Charles de Hevesy Nuclear Medicine Pioneer Award to an individual for outstanding contributions to the field of nuclear medicine. De Hevesy received the 1943 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work in determining the absorption, distribution, metabolism and elimination of radioactive compounds in the human body. His work led to the foundation of nuclear medicine as a tool for diagnosis and therapy, and he is considered to be one of the fathers of nuclear medicine. SNMMI has given the de Hevesy Award every year since 1960 to honor groundbreaking discoveries and inventions in the field of nuclear medicine.

The list of previous recipients of this award includes numerous Nobel laureates--such as Ernest Lawrence, who invented the world's first cyclotron for the production of radionuclides, and Glenn Seaborg, who discovered more than half a dozen new elements.


About the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging

The Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI) is an international scientific and medical organization dedicated to raising public awareness about nuclear medicine and 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 and helping provide patients with the best health care possible.

SNMMI's more than 18,000 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

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