Mike Abrams of Custer, who has been active in the research, discovery and development of pharmaceuticals for over 25 years, was recognized this week by the Society of Nuclear Medicine for having helped invent a drug that changed the course of cardiology.
The Georg Charles de Hevesy Award was named after the Hungarian chemist and 1943 Nobel Prize winner for his work in developing radioactive tracers to study metabolic processes in animals.
Doctors have been able to get good images of arteries by injecting a dye that’s opaque to x-rays, but until Abrams’ invention came along there was no effective way to diagnose the heart tissue itself.
“A lot of things can reduce the blood supply to the heart, and it’s important to have a technique that can tell what areas are affected,” said Alan Davison, a professor of chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Abrams’ graduate advisor when the drug was first developed in the 1980s.
The molecule that Abrams helped invent, Technetium-99M, accumulates in healthy heart tissue and can then be photographed by a special camera that picks up the gamma radiation that it emits. Parts of the heart that are not receiving enough blood do not capture as much of the tracer and so show up differently. The result is a dramatic improvement in the ability to see and diagnose heart problems.
The molecule is the key ingredient in what’s known as a myocardial perfusion imaging agent, known by the trade name Cardiolite. It was approved by the FDA in 1990.
Abrams worked with fellow honorees Davison and Harvard medical school faculty member Alan Jones. After working in Pennsylvania for a number of years the Long Island native founded a biotech firm called Anormed, a venture that was backed by investors in Vancouver. The firm located in Langley, B.C. in 1996 and the Abrams moved to the Blaine area. They’re known for developing drugs that help obtain stem cells in bone marrow. “Instead of collecting marrow, you can get the stem cells out of the marrow, which is really what you’re after,” Abrams said, “and this improves the harvest of stem cells.” He left the company in 2006.
Abrams met his wife Anne while still in college, and they were married in the MIT chapel on July 10, 1983. “It was definitely a nerd wedding,” she said, “with the chemical diagram for Michael’s molecule on the top instead of a bride and groom.”
The couple’s two sons attended Blaine high school. Alex has graduated from Whitman College and was named the school’s outstanding instrumentalist for 2009. He is going to Central Washington University for graduate study. Sam is attending journalism school at the University of Oregon.