Much of Dr. Penner’s research had addressed cell signaling, signal transduction, and ion channels. At the same time, he had experimented with the drug clofazamine, known for treating Hansen’s disease, and was beginning to apply it to innovative treatment of autoimmune diseases, such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, and Crohn’s disease. Such practical applications can extend the value of existing drugs and provide new treatments for patients.
MRI Research Center
Mr. Ushijima said that Queens’s has also worked closely with the medical school in developing novel solutions for known problems. One example grew out of the desire of a researcher, Linda Chang, M.D., to move from Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York State to Hawaii in the early 2000s. The focus of her research was the effects of methamphetamine on the brain and HIV on the brain. When she received a grant for a three-tesla MRI from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Queen’s committed $2 million to building out new space and providing some ongoing laboratory support. Dr. Chang brought her team and more than $20 million in grants to the university. Her husband and professional collaborator, Thomas Ernst, Ph.D., is a researcher in digital imaging who is developing a technique to address a negative feature of MRIs. An MRI may take 45 to 60 minutes to complete, and if the patient moves, it may have to be repeated, which is costly, time consuming, and disruptive for the patient. Dr. Ernst and collaborators have developed a technology to provide real-time correction to an MRI image that might otherwise be blurred by motion. Mr. Ushijima said that he estimated that reducing the number of MRIs in the United States alone could save over $1 billion in repeat MRIs.
PET Imaging Center
A third initiative, Mr. Ushijima said, grew out of an agreement established in 1998 with Hamamatsu Photonics. The company, internationally known for photo-multiplier tubes used in satellites imaging and astronomy observatories, wanted to site a PET scanner prototype in the United States. They proposed a joint venture with Queen’s to build a $5 million cyclotron facility to manufacture the radio-pharmaceuticals for PET imaging while Hamamatsu Photonics provided the prototype PET scanner. The timing was good, because Medicare in 1998 recognized the value of PET and began to reimburse for procedures. Recently collaborators have developed a tracer that offers a solution to a detection problem with prostate cancer. The common tracer for prostate cancer, fluorodeoxyglucose, accumulates in the bladder and masks the prostate. The Queen’s researchers developed a tracer process for a choline compound that does not accumulate in the bladder, but goes to the prostate, where it is visible in a PET scan. The choline technique, able to