Life is short, science is long

By Prasun J Mishra, PhD, Founding President and CEO, American Association for Precision Medicine (AAPM), Chair, AAPM Coronavirus Taskforce (ACT)

It was mid-September 2019 when the American Association for Precision Medicine (AAPM) leadership made a unanimous decision to honor Dr. Sanjiv Sam Gambhir with 2019 AAPM Leadership Award in Molecular Imaging. The award was to be presented to Dr. Gambhir at the Excellence in Precision Oncology (ExPO2019) meeting hosted by AAPM on September 26th 2019, at the Ohana floor (top floor) of the Salesforce Tower, San Francisco, CA.

As a scientist and a contributor to the field of molecular imaging, I have had an opportunity to closely follow Sam’s work. He served as the Director of the Molecular Imaging Program at Stanford (MIPS), the Chair of the Department of Radiology, and the Head of the Canary Center at Stanford for Cancer Early Detection. Sam’s research work was mainly focused on imaging living subjects and cancer diagnostics. Among many contributions, he developed new imaging assays to track gene expression, cell viability/trafficking, protein-protein interactions and enzyme activity.

He was selected to receive the AAPM Leadership Award in Molecular Imaging for his work towards advancing PET reporter gene technology, multi-modality reporter genes, imaging of gene/cell therapies/ immune system/ intracellular events in living subjects, bio-luminescence resonance energy transfer, nano-particle based imaging, Raman imaging and photo-acoustic imaging in living subjects.

Moreover, he translated many of these approaches for the multi-modality molecular imaging of cancer patients. His efforts and vision paved a way for the tissue ex vivo imaging possible in intact living subjects (source Sam authored over 1,000 publications and his work graced the cover of over 25 journals including Nature Series, Science, and Science Translational Medicine (as per his  Stanford profile). Furthermore, Sam mentored over 150 post-doctoral fellows and graduate students and was known for his work in molecular imaging of living subjects and early cancer detection. He co-founded and advised several biotechnology companies (see Wikipedia).

As a chair of the organizing committee and a scientist in the field of Molecular Imaging, I was truly excited to share this news with Sam. However, I was saddened when Sam mentioned to me that he will not be able to accept the award due to his illness and undergoing treatment. Sam apologized for his inability to participate. I wished Sam a speedy recovery and offered to honor him with the award at the AAPM ExPO2020 meeting. Today, I am deeply saddened to learn that Sam Gambhir, passed away battling with cancer. Ironically, Sam’s death was revealed the same day when he was announced to be a recipient of the Stanford’s highest honor, the Dean’s Medal for Academic Excellence for his contributions to advance the mission of Stanford Medicine. See tweet by @StanfordMIPS.

As a fellow scientist in the field of Molecular Imaging I have had several opportunities to interact with Sam. In particular, I remember our interactions at the annual meetings of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). Sam was very active within the AACR molecular imaging community. His enthusiasm and optimism for the field of molecular imaging was contagious. I had an opportunity to share some of my work with him (Mishra et al 2017 Molecular Imaging) and received some amazing feedback. Sam was particularly excited about our ability to image the drug response via luciferase signals in the living animals, demonstrating that feasibility of ex-vivo live imaging in humans.

Moreover, he was a great supporter of the AAPM and its vision to accelerate the field of precision medicine. He believed that the earlier detection of disease is the key to improving human health. He was a big proponent of individualized treatment and monitoring the recurrence of the disease. Sam was not only a big believer in the field of precision medicine, but also precision health. He believed that proactive diagnostics and testing of individuals will not only provide tools for precision medicine but also pave the way to precision health.

Rest in peace Sam. You will be dearly missed.

Image credit:; Title is inspired by a quote by – Hippocrates “The art is long, life is short, opportunity fleeting, experiment dangerous, judgment difficult.”

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