Jonathan Wall, PhD, a professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s Graduate School of Medicine (GSM) in Knoxville, has been appointed as a University Distinguished Professor.
The title is reserved for those who have contributed in a superlative way to UTHSC and brought distinction and respect to the university. Dr. Wall’s appointment comes from UTHSC Graduate School of Medicine Dean Paul J. Hauptman, MD, and UTHSC Chancellor Steve Schwab, MD.
Dr. Wall, who also serves as the Graduate School of Medicine’s director of Research and leads the Amyloidosis and Cancer Theranostics Program there, said, “It is a true honor to receive this distinction, which is a testament to the incredible people I have been fortunate to work with over the years in the lab and throughout the GSM.”
Dr. Wall has devoted the last 26 years to exploring amyloidosis, a rare disease that occurs when abnormal protein aggregates, called amyloid fibrils, build up in tissues and organs causing loss of function.
“It would be an understatement to refer to Dr. Wall’s research as impactful,” Dean Hauptman said. “When few investigators were focused on systemic amyloidosis, Dr. Wall was forging ahead with new, innovative research ideas that are now bearing fruit. Most importantly, beyond his international stature among researchers, Dr. Wall continues to contribute to the Graduate School of Medicine and the wider UTHSC community through mentorship and service.”
There are approximately 4,500 new amyloidosis cases diagnosed annually in the United States. However, the number of people suffering from the disease is likely much higher, due to the inability to diagnose the disease accurately. Many patients go undiagnosed, but Dr. Wall and his research team hope to change that narrative by studying and developing new options to diagnose and treat the disease.
After receiving his PhD from the University of Essex in Colchester, England, Dr. Wall was recruited to work in the lab of the school’s amyloidosis research program in 1995 by Professor Emeritus and former Director Alan Solomon, MD, who is considered to be a world expert in amyloid diseases.
“At that time, amyloidosis was mysterious – how amyloid formed, how many types existed, how best to identify and treat people with the disease, the unknowns were endless,” Dr. Wall said. “The questions that needed to be addressed to solve these problems were diverse and fascinating. I was lucky enough to come to a lab that was filled with talented people who were also fascinated by this phenomenon. It eventually became a passion.”
Dr. Wall has been awarded many grants from the National Institutes of Health and the biotechnology industry to support his research efforts over the years. He also developed patient-target studies using PET/CT imaging. During that process, researchers were able to create an imaging agent labeled with radioactive iodine that can be used to visualize amyloid deposits throughout the body. Its effectiveness is being tested in the first-in-human Food and Drug Administration approved clinical trial using this technique. Clinicians with the Cancer Institute and the Departments of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine at the University of Tennessee Medical Center are contributing to the clinical research.
Since the clinical trial began in November 2018, more than 49 patients from across the United States have successfully completed the trial, which currently is in its second phase. They were all previously diagnosed with amyloidosis, some with extremely rare, genetic forms of the disease.
Dr. Wall hopes to conduct a successful third phase of the clinical trial, which could lead to FDA approval for the imaging agent. If approved, it would be the first imaging agent in the United States used to diagnose all forms of amyloidosis.
“It is still a fascinating area of research with lots to learn,” he said. “There remain many unmet clinical needs that we get to think about and attempt to address. Not to mention, I work with an incredibly talented and dedicated team. It’s what makes this all fun and exciting.”