Center for Radiological Research Celebrating 100 Years

The Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Irving Medical Center is celebrating 100 years of cutting-edge research on radiation and the effects on the human condition. Established in 1916 by Dr. Gioacchino Failla at New York's Memorial Hospital, the Center for Radiological Research was one of the first US institutions devoted to improving the medical applications of radiation. For 45 years, Dr. Failla led the center’s research investigations, first at Memorial Hospital and then moved to Columbia University in 1942. The center’s accomplishments during his tenure as director include:

  • The construction of the first radon generator in the US.
  • Suggestions that radiation doses be expressed as the amount of radiation energy absorbed and made the first dose estimates in radium therapy in terms of microcalories/cc of tissue.
  • Construction of the first human phantom in the US to determine the effects of filtration and distance on X-ray fields in the human body.
  • Published protocols and described equipment permitting radiotherapists to deliver the desired doses to their patients accurately.

Upon his retirement, in 1960, Dr. Failla appointed Dr. Harold H. Rossi as the center's director. Dr. Rossi loved instrument design and was influential in the evolution of the new field of microdosimetry, which is now essential for radiation safety, protection, and effective delivery of radiotherapy to patients.

In the 1960s, Dr. Rossi fostered a collaborative effort with Brookhaven National Laboratory, resulting in, among other findings, the identification of high neutron relative biological effect (RBE) at low doses. Further investigations of the relationship between RBE and dose was a continuing interest with important implications for risk assessment, understanding specific action mechanisms of ionizing radiation, and explaining the biological effectiveness of different radiations.

His seminal work on neutron RBE was critical to understanding and resolving issues in radiation epidemiology arising from problems with dosimetry in A-bomb survivors at Hiroshima because of the larger neutron component as compared to Nagasaki.

In 1985 Dr. Rossi stepped down as director and Dr. Eric Hall was appointed. Dr. Hall’s research interests are varied and broad and expanded the focus of the center to include the study of the mechanisms underlying radiation-induced mutagenesis and carcinogenesis, the health effects of environmental radon exposure, estimation of human health risks from space radiation including the radiobiological effects of neutrons, alpha particles and HZE particles, development of new techniques and approaches for the use of radiotherapy in cancer treatment, in particular low dose-rate and pulsed brachytherapy and better understanding of the genetic determinants underlying radiosensitivity.

In 2010 Dr. Hall stepped down and Dr. David Brenner was named as the new director, the position he holds today. Dr. Brenner has expanded the center's investigative reach to include research on the effects of ionizing radiation in the domains of public health and national security. Research initiatives, such as the High throughput Minimally Invasive Radiation Biodosimetry that focused on developing practical radiation dose assessment devices and techniques to be utilized in the event of large-scale radiological incidents, is an example of the expanded research agenda under the direction of Dr. Brenner.