John H. Lawrence
John H. Lawrence, M.D., D.Sc., F.A.C.P, the Father of Nuclear Medicine, came to California from Harvard and Yale to join his Nobel Laureate brother, Ernest O. Lawrence, so that he could explore the medical uses of radioactive isotopes and subatomic particles from the newly invented cyclotron. In 1936 he joined the faculty of the University of California and headed the medical research laboratory that eventually became
Donner Laboratory, the world’s first research laboratory devoted to nuclear medicine, diagnosis and treatment. Pioneering work led by Lawrence included the first successful treatment in 1937 of polycythemia (abnormal production of red blood cells) using radioactive phosphorous-32 injected into patients. In 1939 he led the team that began treating cancer with neutron beams. He and his colleagues at Donner Lab on the Berkeley campus detailed the kinetics of iron metabolism using radioactive iron-59 and performed whole body imaging of iron using the first PET camera invented by Hal Anger.
Lawrence’s training at Harvard and Yale in the 1930s with the famous neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing led to the successful use of charged particle therapy from a Berkeley cyclotron for treatment of pituitary tumors that caused Cushing’s disease (excessive hormonal release from the adrenals stimulated by the pituitary) and acromegaly (gigantism). Other pioneering firsts include studies of iodine physiology in thyroid diseases, palliative therapy of bone cancers, and during World War II, his team developed physiologic guidelines for protection of aviators at high altitudes.
He is honored as a recipient of the Enrico Fermi Award, the Pasteur Medal, the Greek Royal Order of the Phoenix and a medal of accomplishment from Pope Pius XII. He served the University of California for 13 years as Regent appointed by Ronald Regan in 1970. He provided the impetus at Donner Laboratory for international collaborations that included all major countries of the world, particularly after 1942 to the date of his death at age 87 in 1991. The John Lawrence lectures are supported by an endownment created by generous gifts from his patients, and from his family of four children now living in the Bay Area.