van Dam, Michael

R. Michael Van Dam, Ph.D.


CNSI 4310 / CNSI 2211 / CNSI 2149

Positions & Affiliations:

Professor and Vice Chair, Molecular and Medical Pharmacology; Co-Associate Director, Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging; Director, Crump Cyclotron and Radiochemistry Technology Center
Faculty, Bioengineering; Faculty, Physics in Biology and Medicine Interdepartmental Graduate Program; Member, CNSI; Member, JCCC

Research Description:

My group is broadly interested in developing technologies that can facilitate the study of cancer and other diseases and accelerate the discovery and development of new drugs or cell-based therapies. We are particularly focused on the benefits of in vivo molecular imaging via positron-emission tomography (PET), which can be used to visualize and quantify the distribution of certain receptors or markers throughout the body, or measure the rate of certain metabolic processes. Such information can be used to increase our scientific knowledge about disease, provide diagnostic information, monitor response to treatment, or optimize the in vivo properties of new therapies. Though thousands of PET radiopharmaceuticals have been developed to image different receptors and metabolic processes, only a few are routinely available from commercial sources due to the high cost and complexity of manufacturing these short-lived compounds. We strive to overcome this bottleneck by developing simpler, low-cost radiochemistry technologies and methods for the discovery and production of all types of radiopharmaceuticals (PET tracers, SPECT tracers, theranostics). We are developing (i) compact microfluidic radiochemical reactors for rapid, low-cost production of radiopharmaceuticals, (ii) new high-sensitivity instruments and methods for radiopharmaceutical analysis and cell uptake/binding assays, (iii) and novel high-throughput radiochemistry platforms for reaction optimization and radiopharmaceutical discovery. We are also interested in advancing the underlying tools (e.g., microfluidics) frequently used in the lab. We are passionate about making an impact in medicine, and strive to move proof-of-concept technologies into real-world applications through collaborations and commercialization.


Dr. van Dam received his Bachelor’s degree in Engineering Physics from Queen’s University (Kingston, ON, Canada) and his Master’s degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Toronto (Toronto, ON, Canada). He received his PhD in Applied Physics from the California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, CA, USA) where he studied under the direction of Prof. Stephen R. Quake in the area of microfluidics. Afterwards, he completed a Postdoc position at Caltech under the direction of Prof. James R. Heath on microfluidics applied to the synthesis of radiopharmaceuticals, and transitioned to a Senior Scientist role at Siemens Molecular Imaging Biomarker Research (Culver City, CA, USA) to commercialize this work. He joined the UCLA Department of Molecular & Medical Pharmacology in 2007. He is currently a Professor in the Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging, Department of Molecular & Medical Pharmacology, Department of Bioengineering, and the Physics and Biology in Medicine Graduate Program, as well as a Vice Chair of the Department of Molecular & Medical Pharmacology and a Co-Associate Director of the Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging. His research currently focuses on the development of novel, miniaturized technologies to perform multi-step radiosynthesis of radiopharmaceuticals (e.g. PET imaging tracers, theranostic agents), high-sensitivity radiochemical analysis, and instruments and methods for high-throughput radiochemical synthesis and analysis (with applications in synthesis optimization and novel radiopharmaceutical development). He has published over 70 papers and multiple book chapters, and has been granted over 20 patents, related to these discoveries. Dr. van Dam is also a co-founder of Sofie, Inc., which has commercialized a flexible radiosynthesizer technology and intuitive unit-operation-based programming approach developed in his laboratory (ELIXYS FLEX/CHEM and PURE/FORM).