David W. Townsend, PhD, Receives SNMMI 2015 Paul C. Aebersold Award for Outstanding Achievement in Basic Nuclear Medicine Science

June 7, 2015

A*STAR Scientist and National University of Singapore professorrecognized for pioneering work in the development of 3D and PET/CT imaging

Baltimore, Md. (Embargoed until 10 a.m. EDT, June 7, 2015) — David W. Townsend, PhD, professor in the Department of Diagnostic Imaging at the National University Hospital of Singapore and director of the A*STAR-NUS Clinical Imaging Research Centre in Singapore, has been named this year’s recipient of the prestigious Paul C. Aebersold Award. Townsend was presented the award by the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI) during its 2015 Annual Meeting, held June 6-10 in Baltimore, Md.

Townsend received the award, named for Paul C. Aebersold—a pioneer in the biologic and medical application of radioactive materials and the first director of the Atomic Energy Commission’s Division of Isotope Development—at the SNMMI plenary session and formal opening. The award recognizes outstanding achievement in basic science applied to nuclear medicine and was first presented in 1973. The SNMMI Committee on Awards selects the recipient.

“Dr. Townsend’s contributions to the field of nuclear medicine and molecular imaging have been transformative in regard to the way medicine is practiced today,” said Gary L. Dillehay, MD, FACNM, FACR, chair of the SNMMI Committee on Awards and past president of the society. “With the introduction of 3D PET imaging and the development of a practical and effective PET/CT camera, he brought form and function together to solve the challenges facing our field. Today, his work allows nuclear medicine and molecular imaging professionals to produce high-quality images for more than three million patients each year.”

Townsend began his work on PET instrumentation development in the early eighties, designing and building the first rotating partial ring PET scanner using bismuth germanate—or BGO—block detectors. This necessitated new reconstruction algorithms, new approaches to detector normalization, close attention to scatter correction, and much work to optimize and demonstrate the value of imaging in 3D. Townsend’s contributions to 3D PET imaging were influential in improving the signal-to-noise of reconstructed PET images without increasing the amount of detector material, which to a large extent determines cost. As a result, the impact on the overall cost-effectiveness of PET as a clinical tool has been substantial.

In 1999, Townsend and colleagues introduced the combined PET/CT scanner, which was rapidly adopted and utilized in the nuclear medicine and molecular imaging field. As a pioneer and advocate for the technology, he led the early clinical studies at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre that were influential in bringing PET/CT imaging to its full potential, and his original paper on the development of PET/CT is the second most frequently cited basic science article of all time from The Journal of Nuclear Medicine (JNM). The development of PET/CT technology was medically and commercially successful and has made a difference in the lives of innumerable oncology, neurology and cardiology patients. This work revolutionized the field of nuclear medicine and molecular imaging and has paved the way for the adoption of hybrid imaging, including PET/MRI. 

“This award from the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging truly recognizes the many physicists and engineers who have contributed to the emerging field of clinical multimodality imaging—in particular, my friend, the late Bruce Hasegawa, who was a pioneer of hybrid imaging, and Dr. Ronald Nutt, with whom I developed PET/CT,” noted Townsend. “It has been a privilege to work in a field with so many such outstanding scientists. It has also been a privilege to be involved in the development of an imaging device that has been rapidly embraced by the clinical community and that has contributed in some way to the healthcare of many patients. I am most honored to accept this prestigious award from the SNMMI.”

Townsend received his Bachelor of Science degree in physics from the University of Bristol, England, in 1966 and his doctorate in experimental high-energy physics from the University of London, England, in 1971. He also holds a docent title in medical imaging, awarded in 1987, from the University of Geneva in Switzerland. In addition to his work at the National University of Singapore and the Singapore Clinical Imaging Research Centre, Townsend currently serves in roles internationally, including adjunct professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn., and honorary professor at the Sydney University School of Medicine in Sydney, Australia.

In addition to his membership in SNMMI, Townsend has been a member of multiple professional societies, including the Swiss Society of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Academy of Molecular Imaging (AMI). He has authored or coauthored more than 170 peer-reviewed journal articles and 120 abstracts, and he has contributed to more than 75 invited published papers, proceedings of conferences and symposia, and book chapters. Townsend has held editorial roles for 11 journals and has served as a reviewer for 14 journals, including JNM, IEEE Transactions in Medical Imaging and Molecular Imaging and Biology, and others.

Townsend has received numerous awards and honors throughout his career, including the inaugural IEEE Innovations in Healthcare Technology Medal in 2010, the SNMMI Benedict Cassen Lecture in 2009, the Nuclear Medicine Pioneer Award from the Austrian Society of Nuclear Medicine in 2008, and the AMI Distinguished Clinical Scientist of the Year award in 2004, among others. The PET/CT scanner and Townsend’s work on the technology were also recognized by Time magazine in 2000 as the “Medical Invention of the Year.” He is a Fellow of the IEEE and an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Radiologists (London). He has received honorary degrees from the University of the Mediterranean, Marseille, France, and the University of Bristol, UK.

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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 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 www.snmmi.org.

David Townsend photo