50 Years of PET Imaging History Meets the Future

Inside the room sits a sleek white machine, recognizable as a large medical imaging scanner. Computer monitors in the control room look out upon the scanner. Outside the room sits a seemingly less-familiar, less hi-tech object. It looks like a blue hula hoop – with one half sitting inside a copper stand and a glowstick-like object attached to the outer curve of the hoop – on wheels. A sign hanging from it reads: “Physics Research.”

PET TECH FROM THE PAST: The D-hoop of the original cyclotron at the MGH

The copper stand – known as a D-electrode or “Dee” – was used in the first MGH cyclotron, a type of particle accelerator used to create radioactive particles needed for positron emission tomography (PET). The blue hoop represents the protons accelerated in a circle within the cyclotron. Fifty years ago, that Dee was a central part of the new technology. Upon his retirement, Gordon Brownell, PhD, was given the D-electrode in appreciation for his work in establishing the MGH as the world leader in PET.

It was fitting that this integral historical piece
was on display during an April 13 ribbon-cutting celebrating the Gordon Center for Medical Imaging’s opening of a new imaging suite in the Edwards Building and the launch of its GE-Discovery MI PET/CT dedicated for research.

“We are very excited about the new research PET/CT scanner located proximate to the cyclotron and radiochemistry labs in the Edwards Basement,” said James Brink, MD, MGH radiologist-in-chief. “Through the GE-MGH research collaboration that made this possible, we expect to further advance our understanding of health and disease with molecular imaging.”

The day-long celebration included opening remarks by Brink and his predecessor, James Thrall, MD, followed by presentations highlighting the history and advances in imaging technology at the MGH Gordon Center. The event also was attended by John Flannery, GE CEO, and O’Neil Britton, MD, MGH chief medical officer and senior vice president.

“Fifty years after the installation of the first cyclotron at MGH, the Gordon Center perpetuates the PET imaging research tradition of the hospital with the support of two generations of researchers including some of the earliest pioneers who are still working at our center,” said Georges El Fakhri, PhD, director of the Gordon Center.

The cyclotron 50th anniversary included the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the GE Discovery PET/CT dedicated for research at the MGH Gordon Center.

From left to right: Charles Stearns, Chief Engineer PET at GE Healthcare, Maurizio Fava, Director, Division of Clinical Research of the MGH Research Institute, Michael Fisher, Director, MGH Research Space Management Group, Jae Lee, Executive Director of Radiology at MGH, John Flannery, CEO and chairman of General Electric, James Brink, chief of the MGH Department of Radiology, Georges El Fakhri, Director of the MGH Gordon Center.