The Cotzias Neuro-Oncology Laboratory was originally set up in 1967 by Jerome Posner, then-Chair of the Department of Neurology. In 1990, Dr. Blasberg was recruited from the National Institutes of Health to head the Neuro-Oncology PET Program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Dr. Blasberg brought his experience in physiology, tracer kinetics, quantitative autoradiography, and PET imaging to the department and to the institution. He became a Member of the Molecular Pharmacology and Chemistry Program in 1997 and holds an additional appointment in the Department of Radiology.
The focus of current research is transgene (reporter gene) imaging using noninvasive nuclear and optical techniques, and using magnetic resonance imaging/spectroscopy in collaborative projects with Jason Koutcher, Chief of the Imaging and Spectroscopic Physics Service. The story of transgene imaging in our laboratory began during the years 1992 through 1993, using yeast glucokinase and radiolabeled 3-O-methylglucose (MG) as an imaging probe. A series of experiments showed that MG phosphorylation and accumulation occurred selectively in yeast with genetic upregulation of glucokinase expression, but the magnitude was relatively low and insufficient for imaging (unpublished data). In the summer of 1994, we switched from yeast glucokinase to the herpes simplex virus 1 thymidine kinase gene (HSV1-tk) and radiolabeled 5-iodo-2'-fluoro-2'deoxy-1-b-D-arabino-furanosyl-uracil (FIAU). The first of a series of papers was published in December 1995.
In this series of publications, we established a proof of principle, namely, that transgene expression can be imaged and measured noninvasively using an appropriate combination of marker/reporter transgene and a marker/reporter substrate. Imaging was performed with currently available clinical imaging equipment (PET and a gamma camera). This initial work resulted in a US patent titled Noninvasive Imaging of Gene Transfer (#5703056, issued December 30, 1997). To the best of our knowledge, this is the only patent given for noninvasive imaging of gene expression.
This work and intra-institutional collaborations have led to Memorial Sloan-Kettering recently receiving two NIH imaging-based awards: a P-50 award (In Vivo Cellular and Molecular Imaging Center (ICMIC); R. Blasberg, S. Larson, and J. Koutcher are co-principal investigators) and a R-24 award (Small Animal Imaging Resource Program (SAIRP); J. Koutcher, principal investigator). An Imaging Core has also been established in the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Gene Therapy Program with the help of a PO1 award (D. Golde, principal investigator); R. Blasberg and S. Larson are co-leaders of this core.