Fall 2011

[Alumni News]

Chester Mathis

Uncovering the Hidden Signs of Alzheimer’s

Chester Mathis Submitted Photo

CHESTER MATHIS (‘72, Chemistry) came to HSU as a pre-med student, but found he had a greater interest in chemistry than medical school. Still, he found a way to pursue both. “I do medicinally related chemistry,” he says. “It combines the best of both worlds. It turned out pretty well.”

His decision turned out pretty well for the field of Alzheimer’s research. Mathis’ groundbreaking research garnered the Society of Nuclear Medicine’s Kuhl-Lassen Award in Brain Imaging in 2009 and the Paul C. Aebersold Award for basic science imaging research in 2010.

In addition, Mathis and his geriatric psychiatry research partner William Klunk were awarded the 2004 MetLife Foundation Award, the 2008 American Academy of Neurology’s Potamkin Award, and the 2009 Alzheimer’s Association’s Ronald and Nancy Reagan Award for Alzheimer’s disease research.

Mathis, valedictorian of HSU’s class of ’72, is currently an endowed chair professor of radiology and pharmaceutical sciences and director of the positron emission tomography—or PET—facility at the University of Pittsburgh. Together, he and Klunk developed a radiolabeled dye that makes it possible to identify amyloid—a substance found in the plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease—in a living brain.

Previously, amyloid could only be found by doing an autopsy. By being able to identify people who might not yet have Alzheimer’s, but whose brains show amyloid build-up, researchers can better understand the disease.

PiB PET SCANS Side by side scans of living brains show amyloid plaque in the patient with Alzheimer’s disease (left) and the absence of plaque in the control patient (right). The plaque is made visible with Mathis and Klunk’s traceable dye.

It is now possible to not only see the effects of the disease as it progresses, but also to witness the effects of Alzheimer’s treatments.

Mathis views his work only as a starting point. “We were the first to show it’s possible (to trace amyloid in a living human brain),” he says. “But you can’t go back and replace the brain cells that have died. The name of the game is to detect it early and hopefully treat it early.”