Carolyn Anderson grew up in a large family in Northern Wisconsin and obtained her undergraduate education in Chemistry at a small branch school of the University of Wisconsin-(Superior). Her career in diagnostic imaging and targeted radiopharmaceutical therapy of cancer started when, during the bitter cold Northern Wisconsin winter of 1984, she saw an ad in the American Chemical Society student affiliate newsletter (The pHilter) for the Department of Energy sponsored Summer School in Nuclear Chemistry at San Jose State University. She applied on a whim and was unexpectedly accepted, becoming part of a group of chemistry majors from ivy league and top-tier colleges including Harvard and UC-Berkeley, to take coursework and learn laboratory skills in nuclear chemistry, an area where there is still minimal formal didactic training at the undergraduate level. At the SJSU summer school she met Professor Greg Choppin and went on to do her PhD training at Florida State University, studying the behavior of actinides in the environment. The summer before starting graduate school in 1985, she was introduced to nuclear medicine research through a summer program at Argonne National Lab. After receiving her PhD in Inorganic Chemistry at FSU, she followed her passion for applying nuclear chemistry to medicine and moved to Washington University in St. Louis as a postdoctoral fellow under Professor Michael J Welch’s mentorship. At WU she designed and tested receptor-targeted agents labeled with metal radionuclides for imaging and therapy of cancer. After 20 years at WU, she left as a full professor to lead pre-clinical cancer imaging at the University of Pittsburgh. During her nine years at Pitt, Dr. Anderson established small animal PET/CT imaging at the Hillman Cancer Center, as well as developed a PET imaging agent for imaging vaso-occlusive crisis of sickle cell disease that was recently approved for human studies by the FDA as an Investigational New Drug.
Dr. Anderson’s research throughout the past 30 years laid a foundation for the growth of radiometal-based agents for diagnostic imaging and targeted radionuclide therapy of cancer, a field now coined “theranostics”. Her lab performed early research on the development of copper-64-labeled antibodies and peptides for positron emission tomography (PET) imaging of cancer, and she and colleagues at Washington University led the first human study of a copper-64-labeled somatostatin analog to image neuroendocrine tumors. The first commercial copper-64-labeled agent in this class is now moving towards FDA approval and commercialization (Cu-64 DOTATATE). Nearly 20 years ago her lab published pre-clinical toxicity of the 177Lu-labeled version of DOTATATE, and that agent is now FDA-approved and commercially available for treating neuroendocrine tumors.
Dr. Anderson has received numerous honors, including the Michael J. Welch Award from the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI) in 2012, a Distinguished Investigator Award from the Academy of Radiology Research in 2014, and the Paul C. Aebersold award (SNMMI) for outstanding achievement for basic science research applied to nuclear medicine in 2020.
Dr. Anderson’s unique expertise in inorganic chemistry, radiochemistry, and medical applications in cancer and other diseases will greatly complement the ongoing research at MU. Her lab will develop radiometal-based agents to image specific cell types in the immune system for early response assessment of immune-based therapies, as well as targeted radiopharmaceutical therapy agents for melanoma and other types of cancer.
Dr. Anderson’s goal for the Molecular Imaging and Theranostics Center (MITC) at MU is that it will be a place for discovery of novel radiolabeled agents that can see and/or treat cancer. Her vision for the center is to be a hub for collaborators throughout the MU campus, scientists from nearby powerhouses such as Washington University in St. Louis, and small and large industry partners to brainstorm and perform the initial pre-clinical experiments that set the stage for translation into first-in-human studies. Being closely affiliated with MURR and Veterinary Medicine will foster innovation by incorporating novel reactor-produced radionuclides into cancer targeted agents with the ability to perform clinical trials in companion animals prior to human studies. The unique infrastructure, outstanding scientists with diverse expertise, and strong institutional support will make MU a center of excellence in the center of the US.