Spotlight: Peder Larson, PhD, Associate Professor

Peder Larson, PhDAugust 28, 2020

“Surround yourself with people who you can learn from – and listen to them!” is advice that guides Peder Larson, PhD, associate professor in residence and a principal investigator for The Larson Advanced Imaging Technologies Research Group in the UCSF Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging. Dr. Larson’s research interests are in radio frequency pulse design, pulse sequence development, novel imaging strategies, and optimized reconstruction methods for MRI, with an emphasis on applications in Hyperpolarized carbon-13 agents and semi-solid tissue imaging with ultrashort echo time (UTE) methods. Dr. Larson came to UCSF as a post-doctoral scholar in 2007 under the supervision of Dan Vigneron, PhD, and joined our faculty in 2011.

Larson’s research group works on metabolic imaging with hyperpolarized MRI for cancer imaging, pediatric lung MRI methods, myelin MRI with ultrashort echo time techniques, quantitative imaging on PET/MRI systems, and AI-based analysis of prostate and kidney cancer imaging data. “We are working in a place where nobody is the expert in everything. My team knows its strengths and weaknesses, and our first research question is always: “what does this data mean?” In most cases, Dr. Larson and his team must draw on their backgrounds in engineering, physics, biology, and chemistry in order to fully analyze complex imaging data and provide novel information about tissue structure and function. Reflecting on academic research as a career, Dr. Larson notes that he was attracted to the “idea of working on problems that have never been solved” without the pressure, more typical in industry, of monetizing each discovery.

Dr. Larson very much enjoys being a mentor. He has brought together graduate students, post-docs, and research assistants to develop advanced clinical imaging methods using modern engineering applications. Recalling his undergraduate time at Stanford, Dr. Larson remarked that his undergraduate advisor, Dr. Dwight Nishimura mentored him for many years and witnessed his transition from a student to researcher. “He inspired research directions that have led to years of discovery including current lung MRI, myelin UTE MRI, and PET/MRI projects,” says Dr. Larson. “He also had great values - he showed great respect to everyone from students to colleagues and staff, never dismissing anyone or their ideas, and rarely spoke negatively about anyone.” Continuing his electrical engineering graduate studies at Stanford with Dr. Nishimura, Dr. Larson conducted his doctoral research on "MRI of Semi-solid Tissues.”

Dr. Larson also credits his grandfathers as important mentors and roles models in his life. Dr. Larson’s paternal grandfather was always optimistic and could put a smile on anyone's face at any time. “He would always greet complete strangers as we walked down the street, and make up a name for them! They would always look at him a little funny, but then smile and realize he was just being extremely friendly,” says Dr. Larson.

His maternal grandfather, a urologist, was a great philanthropist with exceptional generosity. He also gave Dr. Larson an appreciation for how medicine can benefit people. “In retirement, he and my grandmother founded a free clinic, originally Dover Free Clinic, and now called Zufall Health Center for underserved communities,” says Dr. Larson.

Dr. Larson makes it a point to teach compassion towards research subjects and patients. For example, he encourages his team to have the experience of being in an MRI machine by volunteering for medical and research imaging. “It is important to understand what your patient and research subject experience is going to be,” says Dr. Larson. “This step won’t win you grants, but it’s the human thing to do.”

Home life for Dr. Larson can occasionally resemble life in the Larson Lab. Projects range from repairing favorite toys to broken ovens, microwaves, and toasters. His all-time favorite lab partner, Dr. Suzy Fong Larson, knows he’ll avoid calling a repair person so that he can try to fix items himself. Other fun activities include bike riding, and gardening, and time with his three kids is full of cards games, chess, checkers, Candyland, Uno, and trips to Half Moon Bay beaches.

Dr. Larson shared this closing advice: “try to find things you are passionate about early on, don’t limit your interests, and try new things. If you are passionate about your work you are very lucky.”

By L. Delgado

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