Illuminating Cancer Diagnosis

Professor David R. Vera, Ph.D., joined the Radiology Department at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine in 1998 after nearly 20 years at the University of California, Davis (UCD) School of Medicine. At UCD, he held various academic and clinical positions and most recently was Adjunct Professor of Radiology. Currently, Dr. Vera is Adjunct Professor of Radiology at UCSD School of Medicine and Member of the Rebecca and John Moores UCSD Cancer Center.

Throughout his career, Dr. Vera’s focus has been on the advancement of radiological tools to improve the diagnosis of organ function and disease. In particular, he has developed the use of reagents associated with radio-pharmaceuticals to assess liver function and to identify lymphatic tissues.

His work researching alternative imaging agents for breast cancer diagnosis has led to the discovery of a new diagnostic agent. This new imaging agent is a receptor-binding radiopharmaceutical for sentinel lymph node imaging that may allow a more appropriate and less morbid treatment approach for metastatic breast cancer. The sentinel node is a good indicator of the metastasis or spread of the cancer cells since it is the first lymph node to receive lymphatic flow from the breast tumor site. Identifying this node prior to surgery permits a less invasive procedure by ruling out other targets, while also decreasing the patient’s recuperation period, and lowering medical cost.

Dr. Vera’s recent invention at UCSD has resulted in a new patent titled “Macromolecular Carrier for Drug and Diagnostic Agent Delivery”, (US patent number 6,409,990). This patent is also the subject of an exclusive license agreement negotiated by TechTIPS with a biomedical technology company for diagnostic use on lymphoid tissues. The new compound is currently undergoing evaluation in clinical studies to gauge its effectiveness in identifying lymphatic tissue in breast cancer and melanoma cancer patients. The patent is also available for licensing in other organ groups.

While balancing academics, research and publishing, like many sought-after members of the UCSD faculty, Dr. Vera has served as a consultant to private sector companies on receptor-based radiopharmaceuticals and contrast agent kinetics. He is a member of the Society of Nuclear Medicine, the American Chemical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Biomedical Engineering Society. In addition, he has been a recipient of the Herbert M. Stauffer Award from the Association of University Radiologists, the Berson-Yallow Award from the Society of Nuclear Medicine, and the New Investigator Research Award from the National Institute of Arthritis, Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Dr. Vera received his B.S. degree from the University of San Francisco, and his Ph.D. degree in biophysics at the University of California, Davis.