September 26, 2012 -- Dr. Henry Wagner Jr., a pioneer in the field of nuclear medicine and past president of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI), died on September 25 at the age of 85.
The professor emeritus of medicine and radiology at Johns Hopkins University is credited as being one of the founders of nuclear medicine as a scientific and medical specialty and was often called the "Father of Nuclear Medicine."
In announcing Wagner's passing, SNMMI President Dr. Frederic Fahey said Wagner's impact on nuclear medicine is "immeasurable. He was brilliant, visionary, jovial, generous and gracious. He was the kind of man the likes of which we may never see again. He will be missed by many."
During his career, Wagner conducted groundbreaking research in imaging the perfusion and ventilation of the lungs, kidney and spleen scanning, myocardial perfusion with potassium-43, gated blood pool imaging, and imaging brain receptors with PET.
In an article Wagner wrote for AuntMinnie.com in 2006, he tells how he chose nuclear medicine as his specialty in 1957, five years after graduating from Johns Hopkins University.
"More than any other specialty," he wrote, "nuclear medicine brought together structure and function, which accounts for the wide acceptance today of combined structural, functional, and biochemical imaging in medicine and biomedical research."
In 2006, Wagner authored a book titled A Personal History of Nuclear Medicine, in which he reflects on his childhood and family, growing up in Baltimore, and how World War II and the Korean War left lasting impressions on him during his high school, college, and medical school days.
He was well-known for selecting the Image of the Year at the society's annual meetings, which became a highlight of the event. The image exemplified the most cutting-edge nuclear medicine or molecular imaging research of the day, and demonstrated the ability of the specialty to detect and diagnose disease and help select the most appropriate therapy.
For the first time in 53 years, the 2010 SNM Image of the Year was not chosen by Wagner, who did not attend the annual meeting due to his retirement.
Wagner was also a co-founder of the SNMMI Wagner-Torizuka Fellowship. The two-year fellowship is designed to provide extensive training and experience in nuclear medicine and molecular imaging for Japanese physicians in the early stages of their careers and includes a $24,000 annual stipend. The program is sponsored by Nihon Medi-Physics in Japan and is in its fifth year.