The Weatherhead PET Imaging Center


The PET Imaging Center was founded in 1979 by K. Lance Gould, M.D. as the Positron Diagnostic and Research Center at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). It was supported by a grant from the Clayton Foundation for Research and developed into the world’s first major clinical PET Imaging Center.

The results of the first 1,500 clinical heart studies at the PET Center indicated that PET was accurate in identifying early coronary heart disease as well as advanced, severe disease in people who had only mild or no symptoms, often years before a heart attack or the need for bypass surgery. But knowing the limitations of balloon dilation and bypass surgery, Dr. Gould sought a better way to treat patients that would not only identify early disease but go a step further in preventing heart attacks and reversing the disease.

PET in the 1980s and early 1990sIn the late 1980s and early 1990s, two medical advances were achieved that led to the development of the present non-invasive treatment guidelines. The first was the demonstration that strict diet and lifestyle management improved blood flow in the hearts of patients with coronary heart disease in the Lifestyle Heart Trial with Dr. Dean Ornish. The PET scans in the study were done by Dr. Gould at the McGovern Medical School. In that study, PET imaging proved to be as accurate or more accurate than invasive coronary arteriograms for assessing the progression or regression of coronary heart disease.

The second medical advance was the approval of a new class of cholesterol lowering drugs called statins. In large medical trials, the statins were able to achieve a 30 to 75 percent decrease in the frequency of heart attacks, deaths, bypass surgery, or balloon dilation in patient with CAD. During this time, the technology of the PET camera itself continued to advance and an additional camera was put in at Memorial Hermann Hospital.

Historic PET equipmentGood scientific data and subsequent clinical experience indicated that the combination of very low-fat, low calorie foods and cholesterol lowering drugs would provide the optimal treatment and maximal protection from heart attacks, balloon dilation, and bypass surgery.

In December 1997, two of Dr. Gould’s patients, Al and Celia Weatherhead, recognized the great accomplishments and potential of PET imaging combined with reversal therapy, and pledged a generous 3 million dollar donation to assure the continued advancement of the PET Center. It then became the Weatherhead PET Center for Preventing and Reversing Atherosclerosis and continues to evolve.