Dr. Phelps is Norton Simon Professor; Chair, Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology; Director, Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging at UCLA.
Phelps earned B.S. degrees in chemistry and mathematics (Western Washington State University), and a Ph.D. in chemistry (Washington University, St. Louis).
In the area of technology, Phelps invented the Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanner with his post doc at the time, Edward Hoffman. With colleagues Simon Cherry and Arion Chatziioannou, he invented a miniaturized preclinical PET scanner, microPET, to provide a pathway for in vitro biological sciences to translate their discoveries to in vivo in animal models of disease, and then into molecular imaging of the biology of disease in patients. Further, with his UCLA colleagues, he invented a PC controlled small, self-shield cyclotron with automated synthesis of radiolabeled imaging probes for PET that formed the basis of the worldwide distribution of PET radiopharmacies.
With UCLA colleagues and students, Phelps developed numerous in vivo assays for PET that provide measurements for, and images of, biological, biochemical and pharmacological processes, from gene expression and signal transduction to rates of various biochemical reactions from metabolism to DNA synthesis, as well as pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics for drugs. He has employed these assays to study normal biological processes of various organ systems, as well as the biology and biochemistry of cancer, neurological disorders, autoimmune-diseases and pharmacology of drug interactions, in patients and animal models of disease. These assays are then transitioned to clinical and pharmaceutical research and to molecular imaging diagnostics of the biology of disease in patient care.
At UCLA, Phelps developed the first clinical PET center, and was subsequently appointed the Chief of the Division of Nuclear Medicine in the UCLA School of Medicine. He led a national effort with faculty from medical schools across America to gain FDA approval and reimbursement for PET molecular imaging diagnostics of the biology of disease with the help of the Congress (Senators Stevens, Kennedy & others). This resulted in FDA approval and federal and private insurance coverage for PET in cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Epilepsy and Cardiovascular disease.
Phelps founded a combined basic science and clinical Department of Molecular & Medical Pharmacology at UCLA. This is the only department in the world in which Nuclear Medicine & PET/CT are in a pharmacology department to provide the integration of in vivo Molecular imaging diagnostics, in vitro molecular diagnostic (blood) and therapeutics (pharmacology), based on the biology of disease. He founded the Institute for Molecular Medicine (IMED) and Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging at UCLA.
Phelps has published 740 peer-reviewed scientific articles and four textbooks. He has been principal investigator of $248 million in grants, as of 2018, and has received awards such as the George von Hevesy Prize, von Hevesy Foundation (von Hevesy won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry); Chaired the 1983 Nobel Symposium in Stockholm; Ernest O. Lawrence Memorial Award, Dept. of Energy; The Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award, American College of Physicians; Enrico Fermi Presidential Award presented by President Clinton; Kettering Prize, General Motors Cancer Research Foundation; Keynote Address, 2007 Nobel Symposium, Stockholm; Massry Award, Massry Foundation; Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Award, German Society of Nuclear Medicine; Gold Medal Award, World Molecular Imaging Society; Gold Medal Award, American Roentgen Ray Society; de Hevesy Prize, the Soc. of Nuclear Medicine & Molecular Imaging; George V. Taplin Award, Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging.
Phelps is member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine. He is the Board Chair, Norton Simon Foundation; and Board Member, Norton Simon Art Foundation and the Norton Simon Museum.
Phelps was also one of the three founders and member of the Board of Directors of CTI Molecular Imaging, that after Siemens acquired 45% of CTI in a joint venture, the remaining 55% was acquired by Siemens in 2005 for $1.1 billion. Along with UCLA and Caltech faculty, and public figures, Phelps founded Momentum, Biosciences (MoM), the first biotech incubator in the LA area. MoM provides facilities, services and funding for start-up and early stage companies from faculty at UCLA and Caltech. He is also one of the founders and board member of one of MoM’s companies – Sofie, Biosciences.
Phelps holds no ownership in any of the faculty founded companies, but rather helps faculty fulfill their hopes & dreams of delivering their inventions & discovery to improving healthcare through commercialization to the public benefit.