Q&A with SNMMI president-elect Richard Wahl

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Q&A with SNMMI president-elect Richard Wahl

by Sean Ruck, Contributing Editor | June 11, 2021
Molecular Imaging
Richard Wahl
From the June 2021 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

This year’s SNMMI Annual Meeting kicks off on June 11 and runs through June 15. Like last year’s meeting, it will be a virtual event to reduce risks surrounding COVID and to enable attendees to participate without physically pulling them away from their hospitals, as some places are still contending with higher than usual patient loads.

While the year may again be unusual, our interview and annual update from SNMMI leadership should provide a point of familiarity. This year, HealthCare Business News spoke with SNMMI president-elect Dr. Richard Wahl, M.D., FACR, FACNP. Dr. Wahl is the Elizabeth E. Mallinckrodt Professor and chairman of the department of radiology, director of Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, and professor of radiology and radiation oncology at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine.

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HCB News: Who or what inspired you to follow a career in healthcare?
Richard Wahl: I was always interested in science and math as a kid. I had some aptitude in those areas. My father had a series of strokes when I was early in high school. I got interested in medicine during my father’s illness and decided I wanted to go to medical school.

HCB News: How long have you been a doctor?
RW: I guess the answer is, “a long time.” I graduated from medical school in 1978.

HCB News: You hold around 20 patents — is there anything among those patents readers would be familiar with?
RW: Several of the patents are related to radioimmunotherapy for lymphoma. Those patents led to the commercial drugs Bexxar and Zevalin. There were several patents on dosimetry as well. They allow for patient-specific imaging and then calculate a radiation dose for a specific patient. Another one was a radionuclide-guided biopsy. A series of patents related to intraoperative detectors that could find radioactive tumors with a probe system. Another one, which ended up being FDA approved in a couple of devices, was a radionuclide-guided biopsy which was deployed for molecular breast imaging. One other is a software to measure tumor metabolic activity — how much tumor there is — and then measure it in a systemic way.

HCB News: Is there any particular moment in your career that stands out above the rest?
RW: There are two. One was: I was an early user of FDG in patients with cancer. I remember one of our very early patients had a “whole-body PET scan” — this was in 1988 or ’89 — and in the scan we could see the primary tumor, lymph node metastases in the axilla and bone metastases in the spine. So, in a single scan, we were able to see primary, local, regional and systemic metastatic disease with the radiotracer within images better than anything I had ever seen up to that date.

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