Pioneer of Nuclear Medicine
Discovered RAI for Medical Applications
Dr. Saul Hertz (1905 - 1950) discovered radioactive iodine as a tracer/diagnostic tool, as a therapy for Graves disease, and thyroid cancer. Radioactive iodine (RAI) is the first targeted Cancer therapy. Dr. Hertz established a cornerstone of Nuclear Medicine as being the first and foremost person to develop the experimental data on RAI and apply it to the clinical setting.
Dr. Hertz was born to Orthodox Jewish immigrant parents in Cleveland, Ohio on April 20, 1905. He received his A.B. from the University of Michigan in 1925 with Phi Beta Kappa honors. After graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1929 he fulfilled his internship and residency at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Cleveland. He then joined the Thyroid Clinic at Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital serving as Chief of the Thyroid Unit from 1931 - 1943.
On November 12, 1936 Dr. Karl Compton, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, spoke at a luncheon lecture. His topic was What Physics can do for Biology and Medicine. After the presentation Dr. Hertz spontaneously asked Dr. Compton, "Could iodine be made radioactive artificially?" Dr. Compton responded in writing on December 15, 1936 that in fact "iodine can be made artificially radioactive." A collaboration between Dr. Hertz (MGH) and Dr. Arthur Roberts, a physicist of MIT, was established. In late 1937, early experiments involving 48 rabbits demonstrated that the normal thyroid gland concentrated Iodine 128, and the hyper plastic thyroid gland took up even more Iodine.
In January of 1941, Dr. Hertz was the first to administer radioactive iodine at the Massachusetts General Hospital that lead to a series of twenty-nine patients with hyperthyroidism. This proved to be a success.
After serving in the Navy during World War II, Dr. Hertz wrote to the director of the Mass General Hospital in Boston, Dr. Paxon on March 12, 1946, "it is a coincidence that my new research project is in Cancer of the Thyroid, which I believe holds the key to the larger problem of cancer in general." In 1946, Dr. Hertz established the Radioactive Isotope Research Institute, with a major focus on the use of fission products for the treatment of thyroid cancer, goiter, and other malignant tumors. He went on to research the influence of hormones on cancer.
Dr. Hertz's use of radioactive iodine as a tracer in the diagnostic process, as a treatment for Graves' disease and in the treatment of cancer of the thyroid remain the preferred practices.