Participating DOE Laboratories and Sites

Brookhaven National Laboratory

One of the 10 national laboratories overseen and primarily funded by DOE’s Office of Science, Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies and national security. BNL also builds and operates major scientific facilities available to university, industry and government researchers.

BNL is operated and managed for DOE’s Office of Science by Brookhaven Science Associates (BSA), a limited-liability company founded by the Research Foundation of State University of New York on behalf of Stony Brook University, the largest academic user of laboratory facilities, and Battelle, a nonprofit, applied science and technology organization.

BNL has an active clinical research program funded by DOE and the National Institutes of Health and supported by a General Clinical Research Center grant through Stony Brook. The Human Subjects Protection Program is supported by the Office of Research Administration. BNL uses the Standards Based Management System to instruct investigators on the Institutional Review Board (IRB) submission process. All human subjects research studies conducted at BNL are reviewed and approved by the Stony Brook University IRB, the Committee on Research Involving Human Subjects.

BNL’s accomplishments over the past 40 years highlight the importance of that fundamental research in chemistry and physics plays in advancing clinical nuclear and in vivo molecular imaging. There have been a number of milestones which have changed the practice of nuclear medicine. These include the following:

  • Technetium-99m for nuclear medicine scans: Research during the laboratory's early years yielded a standard radiopharmaceutical in nuclear medicine, technetium-99m. Technetium-99m can be used to image almost any organ in the body and is now used in more than 13 million nuclear medicine procedures in hospitals throughout the United States each year. BNL also developed an easy-to-use kit that attaches technetium-99m to red blood cells so doctors can see blood movement through the heart and other organs. By the mid-1990s, the Brookhaven kit, marketed by Mallinkrodt under license from BSA, was being used worldwide in more than two million such procedures per year.
  • L-Dopa: Another major medical advance, L-dopa for the treatment of Parkinson's disease, evolved from a 1960s BNL program that used radioisotopes to study the relationship between trace elements and neurological diseases.
  • Thallium-201: Millions of patients worldwide have undergone heart stress tests. But only a few know that these tests use thallium-201, a radioisotope developed at BNL's 60-inch Cyclotron facility.
  • Tin-117-DTPA: Brookhaven researchers have also been developing a radiopharmaceutical called tin-117m DPTA as an alternative to the heavy sedation used to treat the excruciating pain from bone cancer. In the first clinical trials in the mid 1990s, about 80 percent of the patients using the radiopharmaceutical experienced some pain relief and 20 percent became almost pain free.
  • 18FDG/PET: Another major advance pioneered at Brookhaven was the development of 18FDG, a radiopharmaceutical that measures sugar metabolism in the brain and other organs and in tumors. 18FDG is now is now routinely used for cancer diagnosis in almost every PET center in the world and is widely available from a network of regional commercial cyclotron radiopharmacies to local hospitals throughout the United States and the world. The translation 18FDG from the chemistry laboratory to a practical clinical tool had its roots in DOE-supported research in biochemistry, synthetic chemistry and nuclear and radiochemistry integrated with engineering and automation.

In addition to these major clinical radiopharmaceuticals, over the past three decades, BNL has pioneered the development and application of new scientific tools for in vivo molecular imaging to study diseases of major public impact including drug addiction, eating disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). For example, at BNL's Center for Translational Neuroimaging, researchers have used PET and MRI (and their preclinical counterparts microPET and microMRI) to study the effects of drugs of abuse on the human brain.

They were the first to report that people addicted to cocaine, alcohol, and heroin have reduced brain dopamine activity, indicating an under-stimulated reward system. This finding also has been shown to apply to methamphetamine abusers as well as those suffering from obesity.

This research at BNL has also suggested new approaches to treating addiction, one of the world's foremost public health problems. It has also highlighted the importance of investments in chemistry and physics in developing the imaging technologies needed to translate new knowledge to the patient.

Also of note is the Former Worker Medical Surveillance Program conducted for interested former workers from BNL and sponsored by the DOE Office of Health, Safety and Security (HS-15). Two such medical screening projects serve former BNL workers through local occupational health clinics close to their residence:

  • a program run by the Center to Protect Workers Rights for construction workers
  • a program run by Queens College for production workers.

The construction worker program is a nationwide program. Another DOE site IRB, the Pacific Northwest Labs IRB, conducts initial and ongoing reviews of standard medical screening protocols, informational materials, and consent forms for clarity and consistency.

Materials for the production worker program, which will be initiated soon by Queens College, will be reviewed by the Stony Brook IRB.

Content reviewed: October 1, 2013