Neurosurgeon, Nuclear Physician and Scientist
By William Feindel, MDCM, and Mirko Diksic, PhD
Cone Laboratory for Neurosurgical Research,
Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, McGill Uinversity

Yazokazu Lucas Yamamoto was internationally recognized for his research in nuclear medicine and in the pathophysiology of brain disorders. It was one of nature's ironies that Lucas passed away on September 18, 2003 from a stroke, the very ailment he had researched for more than three decades.

Born on 19 January 1928 at Shibetzu-shi, Hokkaido, Japan, Lucas completed his medical course in 1952 at Hokkaido University Medical School. After two years of surgery at the International Catholic Hospital, Tokyo, he studied neurosurgery from 1954 to 1958 in Washington, DC, at Georgetown Medical Center and neuropathology at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology under Dr Webb Haymaker, a former Fellow of the Montreal Neurological Institute. From 1958 to 1961 at the Medical Research Center of Brookhaven National Laboratory, Long Island, NY, Lucas participated as a neurosurgeon with Dr. Lee Farr and his research team in the thermal neutron-capture project using Boron-10 to treat brain tumors. For research on the biological effectiveness of thermal neutrons, Lucas gained his PhD in Radiobiology in 1961 from Yokohama University, Japan.

Canada's First PET Unit
      One of us (WF), while visiting Brookhaven in 1960 met Dr. Wenceslao Calvo, a former MNI Fellow who mentioned that Lucas Yamamoto, about to end his term of study in the USA, was interested in coming to Canada. Lucas had by this time married a paediatric nurse, Jeanine Zollner who hailed from Nova Scotia.

So in 1961 Lucas came to the MNI where his training in nuclear medicine and neuro-surgery added great strength to the program already under way in the Cone Laboratory for Neurosurgical Research, utilizing an upgraded model of the MNI's Saskatoon Contour Automatic Neuroisotope Scanner (SCANS). This radioactive system eventually led to the development of PET at the MNI. Lucas was one of the few experts around at that time in neuroisotopes. Continuing summer stints at Brookhaven,   he helped to develop the first cerebral blood flow studies by positron emitters using an instrument of 32 sodium iodide detectors (1967), a system later transferred on loan from the US government to the MNI. With the help of the physicists and engineers at McGill, this equipment was modified to produce in 1975 the first tomographic PET scans of a glioma and an infarct.

Saskatoon scanner at MNI (1960) and on the right, scan of a meningioma (1962)