Research

Overview

My group is interested in developing technologies that can advance and accelerate research in cancer and other diseases. We are particularly focused on creating tools for in vivo molecular imaging, including platforms to increase the diversity and availability of new positron emission tomography (PET) imaging probes, and platforms for molecular imaging of cells. We are also interested in advancing the technologies (e.g. microfluidics) frequently used in the lab.

Our work is very multi-disciplinary in nature, bringing together aspects of physics, engineering, chemistry, computer science, and biotechnology to enable research in medicine. Research is driven by particular applications and we aim to develop proof-of-concept experiments into working prototypes that can give others access to the technologies we develop through collaborations or commercialization.

Research projects

Automated Synthesis of PET Imaging Tracers

Workflow of PET

Figure 1: Workflow of positron emission tomography

Positron emission tomography (PET) is a highly sensitive whole-body imaging technique based on the detection of radiation from the decay of a radioactive probe ("tracer") administered to the patient. Unlike other types of imaging which primarily image the structure of the body, PET can sensitively measure biochemical parameters, such as the rate of a metabolic process, the density of certain types of receptors, the expression level of a particular gene, etc., all in a living organism.

In the clinic, PET is used to diagnose, locate, and stage cancer, monitor the effectiveness of chemotherapy, and perform diagnostic bone scans. It can also be used to diagnose heart and mental health disorders, track the progression of drugs or toxins through the body, and monitor infectious disease processes. PET is also used extensively as a research tool in many applications, especially in preclinical studies involving animal models of human disease, as well as in the development of new drugs.

Despite the unique information that PET can provide, its use is hindered by lack of availability of the various radioactive tracers needed for imaging different processes. This is in part due to the cost and complexity of tracer production. Specialized equipment and personnel are needed, and, because the tracers are short-lived, they need to be produced just before use.  Out of thousands of known tracers, only a couple are commercially available.  To overcome this bottleneck, fundamental advances in technology are needed to dramatically reduce production cost, and make it affordable to produce small, individual batches of PET tracers. We are developing key pieces of microfluidic radiochemistry technology (see Table) that together will enable a low-cost benchtop system for production of diverse tracers on demand.

 
Workflow step
(see Figure 1)
Completed projects Current projects
 1  Radioisotope production and delivery
  • Dose-aliquotting system
 
 2 Radioisotope preparation
 3 Radiosynthesis
  • Microfluidic optimization of radiolabeling conditions for antibody-based PET probes
  • Phase-change microvalves for high-pressure microreactions
 4  Purification
  •  On-chip [F-18]fluoride removal
 
 5 Formulation  
 7 Quality control (QC) testing  
 8  Radiotracer injection
  • Probe-aliquotting and infusion system
 


Novel Radiochemical Synthesis Approaches

Particularly in the area of F-18 radiochemistry, we are also interested in the development of approaches that simplify the overall radiosynthesis and purification processes, as well as those that expand the scope of molecules that can be radiofluorinated.

Current projects:
  • Development of polymer monoliths for solid-phase radiochemistry


High-Throughput Systems Biology

Another area of research interest is in high-throuhput systems biology. In collaboration with several other groups in the Crump Institute, we are developing microfluidic and robotic systems for automated high-throughput in vitro biological studies. Adherent cells are loaded into microfluidic chips, subjected to various treatments, then assayed (e.g. multi-parameter protein expression).

Current projects:

Microfluidic Technology Developments

Completed projects: