Nuclear medicine pioneer Malcolm Cooper, M.B.Ch.B., 1936-2003

Nuclear medicine pioneer Malcolm Cooper, M.B.Ch.B., 1936-2003

March 24, 2003

A pioneer in the use of positron emission tomography (PET) to study how the brain functions in health and disease, Malcolm Cooper, M.B.Ch.B., associate professor and director of research in the department of radiology and the Franklin McLean Memorial Research Institute at the University of Chicago, died on Thursday, March 20, at Rush-St. Luke's-Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago, from complications following surgery. He was 66.

Cooper was among the first researchers to use PET scans to understand which parts of the brain are involved in performing specific tasks. He was responsible for the development of the PET research group at the University of Chicago, which in 1981 built and operated the first PET scanner in the state.

He was also among the first to use this technology to study the effects of various drugs on brain function, where it provided a new way of evaluating the effects of neuro-psychiatric medications, such as Prozac, as well as of drugs of abuse, such as alcohol. This work led to his founding of a biotechnology company, MIICRO, Inc., devoted to understanding how drugs altered brain metabolism and how that affected mood or behavior.

"Malcolm Cooper was easily one of the brightest and most creative people I have ever worked with," said Robert Beck, professor emeritus of radiology and director of the Center for Imaging Science at the University of Chicago. "His knowledge of the brain spanned the gamut from anatomy to physiology to biochemistry. This made him particularly skillful at designing research protocols that provided reliable quantitative information about brain-tissue metabolism."

"He was a remarkable but very demanding researcher and teacher and a loyal and compassionate friend," said Chin-Tu Chen, Ph.D., associate professor of radiology at the University.

"Malcolm was extremely articulate and could be quite direct," added Beck. "We all treasured him because he understood our shortcomings, explained them clearly and could almost always tell us how to fix them--which is what a valued colleague is all about."

Born September 25, 1936, in Liverpool, England, Cooper earned his college and medical school degrees from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He completed his residency training in England and Scotland, then came to the United States in 1966 as a physician at the University of Rochester's Genesee Hospital. He did advanced radiology training as a fellow, then an instructor, at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore. He came to the University of Chicago in 1976 as an assistant professor of radiology with a specialty in nuclear medicine.

The recipient of 17 research grants from the National Institutes of Health and 11 from the Department of Energy, Cooper was the author or co-author of more than 120 articles in scientific journals and 25 book chapters, primarily on the development and application of radiotracer methods in biology and medicine. He was also involved in clinical care as a specialist in nuclear medicine, and in teaching.

Cooper was also active in professional societies. He was the founding member of the Maryland Society of Nuclear Medicine, a trustee and a member of the academic council for the Society of Nuclear Medicine, and a member of the mental health policy advisory group for Illinois Governor James Thompson.

Cooper is survived by his wife, Joanie, of Chicago; four sons: Sean and Brendan, both of Kankakee, Ciaran of Chicago, and Declan of Traverse City, Michigan; and two grandchildren, Dylan and Caelan.

A funeral service was held at Notre Dame Church, 1335 West Harrison, at noon on Saturday, March 22, followed by burial at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside, IL. A memorial service at the University will be held in the spring.