Jacob Hooker

The Mind Mapper

Radiochemist makes probes for studying chemical dysfunction in the brain

Attendees at Jacob M. Hooker’s group meetings should be prepared for a head-spinning sampling of science. In a single meeting they’re as likely to discuss palladium, and the role it plays as a catalyst for constructing compounds, as they are to talk about the pallidum, a part of the brain that’s involved in behavior, emotions, and addiction.

Hooker, a radiochemist at Harvard Medical School, leads a team that designs and makes radiolabeled compounds for positron emission tomography and then uses them to study the brain. “What unifies us is the fact that I’m a chemist and think about things from a molecular basis,” Hooker says.

Last year Hooker and colleagues began their first human studies of a compound they designed from scratch—known as [11C]Martinostat. The radiotracer binds to histone deacetylases, enzymes that are important for DNA expression. Hooker hopes it will shed light on changes in the brain that occur as a result of aging, psychiatric, and neurodegenerative diseases and may help scientists as they design drugs to treat those diseases.

Being able to see his work through to the application stage has always been important to Hooker. Only after hearing a talk about the chemistry behind color, polymer science, and textiles as a high school student did Hooker decide on a career path, ultimately earning an undergraduate degree in textile chemistry. On paper it seems an unlikely start for someone in chemical neuroscience. But to Hooker it’s a completely logical beginning. Walking the line between pure and applied science, he says, has come to define what he does.

Vital Stats

Current Affiliation: Harvard Medical School and the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital

Age: 35

Ph.D. alma mater: University of California, Berkeley

Talent: Dreaming up new radiolabeled molecules that provide insight into the brain’s activity.

Scientific role model: Joanna S. Fowler. “She continues throughout her career to redefine herself and excel in so many ways. And it’s not just the science. She always puts people first. She taught me that science is made of individuals working together to accomplish goals.”

Three Most Important Papers By Hooker:

“Evidence of Brain Glial Activation in Chronic Pain Patients” (Brain 2015, DOI: 10.1093/brain/awu377)

“In Vivo Imaging of Histone Deacetylases (HDACs) in the Central Nervous System and Major Peripheral Organs” (J. Med. Chem. 2014, DOI: 10.1021/jm500872p)

“A Fluoride-derived Electrophilic Late-Stage Fluorination Reagent for PET Imaging” (Science 2011, DOI: 10.1126/science.1212625)

Research At A Glance

Hooker creates radiolabeled molecules that help researchers study changes in the brain at the molecular level. This positron emission tomography brain map was made with [¹¹C]Martinostat, a molecule that binds to histone deacetylases. The highest concentrations of the molecule are red, the lowest are blue.
Hooker creates radiolabeled molecules that help researchers study changes in the brain at the molecular level. This positron emission tomography brain map was made with [11C]Martinostat, a molecule that binds to histone deacetylases. The highest concentrations of the molecule are red, the lowest are blue.
Credit: Jacob Hooker

Karen Havenstrite
Kami Hull
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