Herbert C. Allen, Jr., MD Third President of the Southwestern Chapter (term ending 1957) with President Ronald Reagan.   

Herbert C. Allen, Jr., MD
Third President of the Southwestern Chapter (term ending 1957) with President Ronald Reagan.


Dr. Herbert C. Allen first became interested in radioisotopes, as the art and science was then referred to, in the fall of 1947, the year he finished his formal residency training in Internal Medicine in Virginia. Dr. Allen practiced Nuclear Medicine as a specialty for 50 years prior to his retirement in 1995. The first seven (7) years were primarily in Radioisotope/Nuclear Medicine Research in the Veterans’ Administration in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Houston; the next six (6) years in a combination of research and private practice of Nuclear Medicine and continuation in applied Nuclear Medicine Research.

In the Fall of 1947, George M. Lyon, MD had just been made Chief of the Section on Atomic Medicine in the Department of Medicine and Surgery of the Veterans; Administration in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 1947. Dr. Lyon made arrangements for Dr. Allen to attend his first course in Atomic Medicine at the Walter Reed Hospital, in January 1948. Following his brief introduction to the Atomic field, Dr. Lyon offered Dr. Allen the position as his Assistant in the Department of Atomic Medicine, as it was then called. Dr. Allen was the Assistant Chief of the Section of Atomic Medicine and his primary function and responsibility was the establishment of the first eight (8) medical radioisotope laboratories in the Veterans’ Administration. This office was located in the Central Office of the VA in Washington, D.C. 

Dr. Allen spent approximately a year in this position establishing these eight medical radioisotope laboratories and was engaged in the procurement of the initial nuclear electronic equipment, assisting such directors as Joe Ross, George Meneley, George LeRoy, Irvin Kaplin and a number of other physicians. These were the first medical radioisotope laboratories in the nation. (Boston, Cleveland, Chicago. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, and Nashville) and, of course, a number of active members of the SNM subsequently obtained their isotope training in these laboratories. Among other duties was the actual design of these radioisotope laboratories for which there were no available guidelines. Dr. Allen designed these laboratories with the help of the VA Engineering Department. In those days, very little was known about how to design these laboratories; whether to use strippable paint on bench surfaces or stainless steel, what types of hoods could safely remove the activity, etc., was all part of his job. In addition, Dr. Allen had to hire technical and professional personnel to staff these Nuclear Laboratories. The Civil Service Commission had no such classifications for the existing few experienced radioisotope personnel so it was Dr. Allen’s duty to write job descriptions at such a level that the Civil Service Commission would rate the position at a salary level that would attract physicians and scientists into the radioisotopes program of the Veterans’ Administration. This was a mammoth job and a very difficult one since there were no available guidelines to follow.

Dr. Allen at West Los Angeles VA, using a Directional Scintillation Detector with Calcium Tungstate Crystal

After approximately a year as Assistant Chief of the Radioisotope Section Central Office VA Washington, D.C., Dr. Allen moved to Los Angeles to further establish and organize the VA Radioisotope Laboratory in Van Nuys, California, along with Mortimer Morton, M.D. Dr. Allen spent a little over a year as Assistant Director of the Van Nuys Radioisotope Laboratory and then moved to West Los Angeles to establish the Clinical Section of the VA Radioisotope Laboratory at Wadsworth General Hospital. During his tenure at this laboratory, Dr. Allen’s principal contribution to Nuclear Medicine was the designing, fabrication and introduction of the Calcium Tungstate Scintillation Counter to the field of medicine. It was Dr. Allen’s responsibility , in cooperation with Benedict Cassen, PhD., Larry Curtis and Cliff Reed to clinically develop, modify and redesign this new type of hand held light-weight scintillation probe, to determine if it was comparable or superior to the Geiger-Mueller Tube and had any clinical applications. They gradually developed a mechanical hand-operated scanned (see image to the left) followed by a mechanized (motor-driven) scanner and were the first to introduce mechanical and automatic scintillation scanning for thyroid studies. Then Dr. Allen left Los Angeles and moved to Houston to establish his fourth VA Hospital laboratory with the full intention of returning to Los Angeles. However, Dr. Allen and his wife, Betty, enjoyed Houston to much that they decided to make their permanent home there. 

At the VA Hospital in Houston, Dr. Allen continued the research in scintillation counting that he started in Los Angeles. He and his colleagues redesigned and modified the scintillation probe for brain scanning. They were the first laboratory or group to publish our research on the localization of brain tumors with the automatic scamming Calcium Tungstate single hole scintillation probe. In those days, Sodium Iodide was not yet commercially available. This paper (brain scanning) was given in Oxford, England, 1951-1952. At this same meeting< Dr. Allen also presented for the first time the advantages of pulse height analysis or discrimination in clinical scanning, particularly with reference to localizing brain tumors with a single-hole collimator.

After approximately four years at the VA, Dr. Allen then moved to the Methodist Hospital in Houston in 1954 and established there the first Radioisotope Department and first private Department of Nuclear Medicine in Houston in the Texas Medical Center. While there, he and colleagues continued to do investigative research on brain tumor scanning and developed a cooperative program with Craig Harris and Jack Frances of Oak Ridge National Laboratories clinically testing some of the automatic devices that they designed in Oak Ridge such as the focusing collimators (Mercury, Gold, Tungsten), photoscanning, tape recording read-out, howlers, etc.

Dr. Allen remained at Methodist Hospital for six (6) years from 1954 to 1960 as Director of the Department of Nuclear Medicine. St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, next door to Methodist, had no Nuclear Medicine Department so in-patients from St. Luke’s were transported to Methodist via connecting tunnel for Nuclear Medicine testing. Dr. Philip Johnson was Dr. Allen’s replacement when he left to go into full-time private practice of Nuclear Medicine. Dr. Allen also became Director of the Department of Nuclear Medicine at Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center in 1956.

He entered into the private practice of Nuclear Medicine in 1960, setting up the Nuclear Medicine Laboratories of Texas in the Hermann Professional Building. This has been a Laboratory devoted entirely to Nuclear Medicine. It was originally 3,000 square feet but since that time it grew, and additional satellite laboratories were established in Houston. 

Dr. Allen, along with others, was one of the original founders of the “Southwestern Society of Nuclear Medicine.” He was a member of the “Pacific Northwest Society of Nuclear Medicine” before the Southwestern Society of Nuclear Medicine was formed. This Society of Nuclear Medicine was not known in those days as the Society of Nuclear Medicine as we know of it today. It was a regional group of physicians and non-physicians from the Pacific Northwest interested in radioisotope medicine. In Salt Lake City, in 1957, the Society of Nuclear Medicine was expanded to encompass the entire USA.

Also, during this period of time in Houston, Dr. Allen has been involved in organized medicine as related to nuclear medicine in both the local (Harris County) level as well as the State and National levels. In 1954, the President of the Texas Medical Association (TMA) appointed Dr. Allen as the first Chairman of the newly organized Committee on Nuclear Medicine of the TMA. He was the chairman of this committee for nine (9) years and during this time the committee was quite active in the affairs of Nuclear Medicine and was assigned the responsibility of serving as the watch dog for the TMA in respect to the changing legislative picture in the Atomic Energy field as related to medicine. 

As a member of the Council on Scientific Advancement of the Texas Medical Association (1958 – 1967), Dr. Allen and colleagues introduced the subject of Nuclear Medicine as a part of the “curbstone consultations” of the Annual Convention of the TMA in which practicing physicians, assembled around a conference table, would ask invited members from the Society of Nuclear Medicine various questions that concerned nuclear medicine problems in their every day practice. At the first of these, in 1965 in San Antonio, Texas, William H. Beirwalters, M.D. and Merrel Bender, M.D. were invited guests. This was the only means of transmitting information to the profession in general since as mentioned above there were no recognized sections of nuclear medicine that could function as a forum for Nuclear Medicine. In addition, these two physicians participated in other scientific programs of various specialty sections of the TMA and thereby further disseminated nuclear medicine information. 

Dr. Allen chaired the Committee on Nuclear Medicine of the TMA. He, James Allen Chamberlin, M.D., and others worked to transfer the licensing of the use of radioactive materials to the State of Texas and out of the jurisdiction of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. After more than a year of investigation, Dr. Chamberlin and Dr. Allen physically wrote all drafts of the Bill that, after approval by the TMA in 1960 was then given to our legislators to introduce to the Texas Legislature. It was this Bill that was passed without opposition making Texas the Sixth Agreement State to successfully transfer licensing from the Federal Government (AEC) to the State Government. It was through their efforts that this agency was placed under the Texas State Department of Health rather than creating a new and a separate agency for Atomic Energy. In 1961, Texas became the 6th Agreement State after which the Texas Radiation Control in the Texas State Department of Health was established. Dr. Allen was appointed by the Governor, Price Daniels, of the State of Texas with eight others to be first to serve as the Texas Radiation Advisory Board. Dr. Allen was elected as the Secretary of the Texas Radiation Advisory Board and served in that capacity until 1967.

As Chairman of the Legislative Committee, special trips to Washington, D.C. at Dr. Allen’s own expense were made yearly to confer with the Texas Congressmen and Senators, legislators form other states, FDA, AEC, Public Health, Department of Labor Officials, as well as appearing at Public Hearing of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy concerning official Society of Nuclear Medicine business. In addition, considerable correspondence and long distance telephoning of Texas Congressmen and Senators, at no expense to the Society of Nuclear Medicine, was necessary to delay and/or defeat some of the proposals made by the FDA, Public Health Department and Atomic Energy Commission, Department of Labor and FAA.

As Chairman of the Legislative Committee of the Society of Nuclear Medicine, Dr. Allen coordinated the Society’s efforts with those of the organized medicine, which included the local Harris County Medical Society, the TMA and the AMA. Many of the resolutions that were adop0ted by the Society of Nuclear Medicine were also presented before and adopted by the TMA and the AMA and vice versa. It was by this means that we were able to bring additional pressure and express our opinions concerning the various activities of the agencies and commissions of the U.S. Government that were attempting to promulgate rules and regulations contrary to the desires of the membership of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and to the best interest of Nuclear Medicine. Listed below are some of the resolutions adopted by the Society of Nuclear Medicine concerning proposed changes in rule making that appeared in the Federal Register from time to time over the past ten years.

Dr. Allen’s major contribution to Nuclear Medicine, because of his several positions held in organized medicine (Chairman of Committee on Nuclear Medicine,TMA), in the state government (Secretary of Radiation Advisory Board of the State of Texas) and in the Society of Nuclear Medicine (Chairman, Committee on Legislation, etc.) would be in the coordination of the efforts of and liaison with the major organizations both in and out or organized medicine. (the Society of Nuclear Medicine, the local Harris County Medical Society, the Texas Medical Association, American College of Radiology, attorney General of the U.S. Atomic Industrial Forum, the Agreement States and States Governments, Southern Interstate Nuclear Compact, Congressmen and Senators, etc.) in opposing when necessary or supporting when appropriate, proposed legislation or proposed changes of rules and regulations by the various governmental agencies (AEC/NRC, FDA, FAA, HEW, PHS and Department of Labor). Therefore, in this capacity as a legislative “Liaison Officer, “Lobbyist” or “Coordinator”, the Society of Nuclear Medicine was able to exert considerably more influence on the members of Congress and the various bureaucratic agencies in Washington than the Society of Nuclear Medicine could probably have done alone.