David E Kuhl

Last revised by Daniel J Bell on 25 Feb 2020

David E Kuhl (1929-2017) was a pioneering nuclear physician, who played a key role in the development of positron emission tomography (PET), and more generally nuclear medicine.

David Edmund Kuhl was born on 27 October 1929 in St Louis, Missouri. He went to Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1947, on a Westinghouse Talent Search scholarship, majoring in nuclear physics. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1955, completing his residency, and then fellowship in radiology at the university’s hospital in 1962. 

He became Chief of Nuclear Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 1958, a position he retained until 1976.

It was during his time at Penn that he developed a new method of tomographic imaging.

Kuhl focused his research on neurochemical and metabolic processes within the brain using PET radiotracers, paving the way for better understanding of degenerative brain diseases and targeted drug treatments. His discoveries in both basic science and associated clinical applications, helped lead to the everyday clinical use of PET scanning.

Kuhl was a founding member of the Society of Nuclear Medicine, as well as the American Board of Nuclear Medicine. 

He held academic appointments at three different institutions in his long career:

  • University of Pennsylvania (1958-76)
  • University of California Los Angeles (1976-86)
  • University of Michigan (1986-2011)
    • director of the Division of Nuclear Medicine
    • director of the Center for Positron Emission Tomography at the University of Michigan

Kuhl died in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on 28 May 2017, at the age of 87.

  • Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine from the Ernst Jung Foundation (1981)
  • Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences (1989)
  • Berman Foundation Award for Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy
  • Georg Charles de Hevesy Nuclear Pioneer Award
  • Outstanding Researcher award from RSNA
  • Gold Medal from American Roentgen Ray Society
  • Benedict Cassen Prize (1996)
  • Charles F Kettering prize from the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation (2001)
  • Japan Prize from the Science and Technology Foundation of Japan (2009)
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)
  • Kuhl-Lassen Award, highest award of SNMMI's Brain Imaging Council
    • annually awarded to an individual who has made stand out contributions in this field
  • David E Kuhl Collegiate Professorship was established in 2009 by the University of Michigan

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