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Molecular-imaging expert Gambhir to head Stanford radiology department

- By Michelle Brandt

Sanjiv "Sam" Gambhir

Sanjiv “Sam” Gambhir, MD, PhD, a professor of radiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine and well-known leader in the field of molecular imaging, will be the new chair of the school’s Department of Radiology.

In announcing the selection, medical school Dean Philip Pizzo, MD, said Gambhir is “internationally recognized for his incredible scientific contributions, and for training and educating the new generation of physicians and scientists focusing on molecular imaging. While there is also no doubt that the field of radiology and imaging will change dramatically in the years ahead, Stanford is clearly fortunate to have Dr. Gambhir carrying on the tradition of excellence in radiology and imaging science already established at Stanford.”

Gambhir, who is also the Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Professor in Cancer Research, has a diverse background, having trained in physics, applied mathematics, cell and molecular biology, medicine, nuclear medicine and molecular imaging — a field that focuses on the way organs and tissue operate at the cellular and sub-cellular levels. His research seeks to identify and manipulate molecules that can be used to image in vivo biological processes, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.

“The ability to track health and disease states down to the molecular level has been his vision,” Pizzo said of Gambhir.

Gambhir is currently chief of the Division of Nuclear Medicine and director of the Molecular Imaging Program at Stanford. He also heads an NCI-funded Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence, which involves faculty from numerous disciplines who are working on ways to integrate nanotechnology into cancer research.

Along with his other projects, Gambhir is a member of the Stanford Cancer Institute, and he directs the Canary Center for Cancer Early Detection at Stanford, where researchers work on the development of blood tests and molecular imaging approaches to improve the early detection of cancers. Gambhir is also involved in patient care as head of the Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging Clinic, a new, state-of-the-art facility that he helped design and open.

Gambhir said he considers radiology to be one of the most multidisciplinary fields in the realm of medicine, adding that he plans to continue encouraging collaborative projects in his new position, which he will take over on Sept. 1.

“My vision is to foster science without borders,” Gambhir said. “We need to break down traditional boundaries between disciplines and really take advantage of the excellent science ongoing in the schools of Medicine, Engineering, and Humanities and Sciences. I also want to build bridges to SLAC by bringing fundamentally new ways to interrogate matter, including living matter, to clinical reality.”

Gambhir said his other equally important goals as chair will be to significantly enhance patient care at Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, and to train a new generation of physician-scientists who will continue to broaden the field of biomedical imaging. “This would be our greatest accomplishment – even over any major individual scientific discoveries,” he said.

Gambhir joined the Stanford faculty in 2003. Prior to that, he spent 20 years at the University of California-Los Angeles, where he earned his MD and PhD in biomathematics while in the Medical Scientist Training Program. After completing his residency there, he rose to become director of the Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging, and professor and vice chair of the Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology.

“To call Sam Gambhir’s subsequent career trajectory anything but meteoric would be a major understatement,” said Pizzo.

Gambhir has received numerous awards, and in 2008 became one of the youngest elected members to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. In 2009 he received the Outstanding Researcher Award from the Radiological Society of North America for his “original and significant contributions to the field of radiology or radiologic sciences throughout a career of research.”

In presenting the RSNA award, Peter Choyke, MD, chief of the National Cancer Institute’s Molecular Imaging Program, described Gambhir as “an innovative thinker, prolific writer, much-sought-after speaker, mentor and thought leader. He is an excellent example of a physician-scientist and has become a model to whom young research-oriented radiologists can aspire.”

Professor Gary Glazer, MD, has served as chair of the radiology department since 1987. Pizzo praised Glazer for building “one of the most notable academic departments of radiology in the world.”

The search process for the new chair was led by Robert Robbins, MD, professor and chair of cardiothoracic surgery and director of the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute.

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2022 ISSUE 1

Understanding the world within us

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