Peter Clark, PhD

Peter Clark, Ph.D. 

Assistant Professor, Molecular and Medical Pharmacology


Peter Clark, Ph.D., develops methods to utilize the imaging technique positron emission tomography (PET) to improve the diagnosis, treatment and understanding of human diseases.

PET scans use a tracer, composed of a radioactive atom attached to a molecule like glucose, to enable the observation of biological processes of the tissues or cells that most readily absorb the molecule. For example, tracers made with glucose help scientists and clinicians identify tumors, because cancer cells absorb and metabolize glucose at a faster rate than other cells. 

Clark aims to improve cancer treatments by using PET scans to identify if drugs like chemotherapy are effective at slowing cancer metabolism. The current standard of care in cancer treatment often involves months of waiting to determine if a cancer drug is having an effect. Clark believes this process can be expedited through the use of PET imaging to observe metabolic changes within cancer cells. The sooner clinicians can determine whether or not a treatment is working, the sooner they can cease ineffective therapies, reducing and the financial, emotional and physical toll on patients. This tool would also be tremendously helpful in drug development; clinical trials of ineffective drugs could be ended in a timely fashion, reducing the risks to participants and freeing up resources to support more promising trials of other drugs.

Clark focuses on expanding the scope of information PET scans can provide through the development of novel tracers composed of different natural molecules. These molecules can be carefully selected to accumulate in the tissue or cells intended for study. Clark is currently developing a PET tracer that can determine the fate of stem cell-derived liver cells that have been transplanted into an animal model. He hopes this technology could advance cell therapies for liver disease, which aim to replace whole organ donation with transplants of stem cell-derived liver cells that integrate into the liver to regenerate lost or damaged tissue. Using PET tracers to follow these cells and determine if they survive the transplant process and integrate into healthy tissue will determine if the cell therapy is working, thus providing critical information that could advance new cellular therapies for liver disease to human clinical trials.

Clark earned a doctorate in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at UCLA.


Honors & Affiliations


  • Herbert Newby McCoy Award in Chemistry, California Institute of Technology, 2011


  • Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging
  • Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCLA
  • World Molecular Imaging Society
  • American Association for the Study of Liver Disease


Clark’s work is funded by the UCLA Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) in Prostate Cancer.


The importance of limiting cancer cell’s sugar
Peter Clark’s lab is working towards uncovering key factors involved in cancer cell metabolism. Cancer cells consume more sugar than any other cell in the body, but researchers still haven’t found a way to harness that trait to kill cancer cells without also harming nearby healthy cells. Clark is hopeful that understanding this unique feature of cancer cells will make it easier for future therapeutics to target cancer with limited side effects.