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TRIUMF Researcher Emeritus Dr. Thomas Ruth elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada

10 September 2019

Dr. Tom Ruth, TRIUMF Emeritus Senior Scientist, has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

The election, which was announced in today's RSC Class of 2019 publication, honours Ruth’s significant contributions to a variety of research pursuits within nuclear medicine and nuclear chemistry.

A significant contributor to the emerging fields of nuclear medicine and positron emission tomography

Ruth attained his Ph.D. in Nuclear Spectroscopy from Clark University in Massachusetts in 1973, not long after the development of positron emission tomography (PET), a now-ubiquitous nuclear medicine imaging technique that employs decaying isotopes to produce 3D images of the brain and whole body. After six years of teaching, Ruth took a position at Brookhaven National Laboratory working under Dr. Al Wolf where he studied the production of several isotopes, including fluorine-18 and astatine-211, using the lab’s cyclotrons. His work, along with the Wolf group’s work to identify radioisotopes that could be used for PET scanning, helped drive acceptance for PET imaging and eventually paved the way for the wider development of diagnostic and therapeutic nuclear medicine techniques. His work on the 18O(p,n)18F excitation function was considered by Brookhaven to one of the lab’s top 10 studies for the 20th century.

Ruth went on to help establish the TRIUMF-University of British Columbia PET program (which operated in collaboration with the Pacific Parkinson’s Research Centre) in 1980 and was appointed its Director in 1989. During his tenure, Ruth oversaw the installation of four PET scanners at UBC hospital, as well as the installation of the TRIUMF-type 13 MeV (TR-13) cyclotron at TRIUMF – a cyclotron that to this day provides key radioisotopes for PET scans at the UBC hospital. Ruth also worked closely with the BC Cancer Research Centre (BCCRC) to establish a PET Centre for research and diagnostic studies, leading to a joint appointment between TRIUMF and BCCRC.

Ruth has become widely recognized for his expertise and work at the leading edge of radioisotope applications in nuclear medicine, from studying the origins and progression of neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease to future-facing personalized medicine and cancer treatment using therapeutic radioisotopes, including alpha-emitting isotopes.

Notably, Ruth also played an integral role in a collaboration that developed a cyclotron-based technology that produces one of the most critical medical isotopes, technetium-99m (Tc99m) – an aptly-timed innovation that came in response to the medical-isotope shortages that resulted from unanticipated shut-downs of the Chalk River reactor. More recently, he also assisted in the establishment of TRIUMF’s Institute for Advanced Medical Isotopes, the future of TRIUMF’s medical isotope program.

Applying isotopes beyond medicine

Apart from nuclear medicine, Ruth has also explored the utility of radioisotopes in solving questions in the biological and physical sciences. In the late 1980s, Ruth worked with botanists at UBC, using nitrogen-13 to assess fertilization on crops, the impacts of clear-cutting, and the ability to increase protein content in rice – a critical topic of study in nutrition science. Later, using isotopes of copper, he worked with the UBC Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences to study the processes whereby phytoplankton swap copper atoms for iron that enable a key metabolic pathway, and how this substitution impacts the plankton’s ability to sequester carbon dioxide. Alongside UBC chemical engineers, Ruth also used radioisotopes and PET scanning for the study of multi-phase fluid dynamics, a topic with important implications for paper manufacturing and a variety of other industries.

A career of collaborations

Despite his many accolades and a long list of accomplishments and achievements, Ruth remains humble.

“I am honoured and excited to acknowledge and celebrate the many, many collaborations over the 45 years of my career,” said Ruth. “These studies were only possible because of the commitment of large numbers of scientists, technicians, students (at all levels of their training) whose unselfish efforts made the completion of the respective studies possible.”

“We are very pleased that the Royal Society of Canada has chosen to honour Tom and his important contributions to science,” said TRIUMF Director Dr. Jonathan Bagger. “Tom has made an indelible mark on the history of our laboratory, and he continues to make valuable contributions to our community and the world beyond.”

Ruth also holds Research Emeritus Status at BCCRC, as well as Adjunct Professorships with the Department of Medicine at UBC and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Victoria. Among his many other distinctions, he is also the recipient of the Michael J. Welch Award from the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging for his contributions to radiopharmaceutical development.

Congratulations, Tom!