Cancer Molecular Imaging Research


The mission of the Cancer Molecular Imaging Program (CMIP) is to develop novel and translational molecular imaging agents to target cancer. By precisely targeting imaging agents to surface receptors of cancer cells, it is possible detect the presence of indicative expressed receptors in tumors using current imaging technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) and fluorescence imaging (FI). This information is crucial in addressing the unmet challenge of tailoring targeted therapeutics and advancing the field of precision medicine.



The current focus of CMIP is to develop magnetic resonance and optical agents based on small molecules, polymers, proteins and nanoparticles that can be used to interrogate molecular markers associated with various types of cancers. For example, agents currently being developed and tested in CMIP are:

  • Near-infrared fluorescent dyes
  • Metal chelates
  • Iron oxide nanoparticles
  • Polymeric nanoparticles
  • Hyperpolarized metabolites and peptides

As part of this program we are investigating an emerging imaging technique, hyperpolarization, to enhance the magnetic resonance imaging signal of injectable agents in excess of 10,000 times. This technique provides a method to track and image the fate of the injectable agent minutes after administration, with imaging sequences performed in seconds. Finally, agents that possess both imaging and therapeutic agents (theranostic) are an active area of research within this program.

Confocal microscopy of MDA231 cell treated with platinum nanoparticle labeled with CY5, a fluorescent dye (red color in image) and a HER2/HER3 targeting protein (stained in green). Localization is indicated by the yellow color, demonstrating that the particles are delivered to the nucleus of the cells (stained in blue).

Iron-oxide-based activatable nanoagents can be designed to report on tumor localization and drug release. Their release, triggered by enzymatic action or low pH, will result in changes in the T1 or T2 relaxation time of the water molecules surrounding the nanoparticle, and therefore a change in the MR signal (MR contrast). From Nat Comm. 2014 Mar; 5:3384, Small 2009;5(16):1862-1868 and ACS Nano. 2012;6(8):7281-7294. doi:10.1038/ncomms4384


Collaborative Research

The research team is investigating the next generation of molecular imaging and molecular therapeutic agents to target prostate, brain and breast tumors, among others.

Internal Collaborations

External Collaborations

  • UCLA
  • University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California
  • Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York