Next generation molecular probes for magnetic resonance imaging and sensing: Design, synthesis, evaluation and application

Principal Investigator: Xiao-an Zhang

Department: Physical & Environmental Sciences

Grant Names: NSERC ; Discovery Grant ;

Award Years: 2016 to 2021


Nuclear magnetic resonance can be used for both spectroscopy (NMR) and imaging (MRI) studies, and thus is widely applied in chemistry, biology and medicine. The hallmark limitation of both MR-based techniques is the low sensitivity. As such, clinical MRI must rely on the 1H NMR signal of water, the most abundant molecule in vivo. Many molecular events with biological or medical significance, such as protein expression, enzyme activities and pH fluctuation, are inaccessible by NMR or MRI, due to low signal intensity. This research program aims to develop new chemical probes to improve the sensitivity and molecular specificity for MR imaging and spectroscopic sensing. Their application will non-invasively reveal structural and functional information of living biological systems at molecular level, ideal for advanced biomedical research as well as for clinical diagnosis. The current program aims to achieve the following breakthroughs: to understand and to further improve the factors that control the high sensitivity of manganese porphyrins (MnPs) at high magnetic fields; to develop novel MnPs for specific applications, including vascular imaging, cellular imaging and disease targeted molecular imaging; to develop new approaches to manipulate sensitivity, and utilize them for MRI sensor development.

By developing novel strategies and choosing appropriate targets, highly sensitive and accurate NMR sensors may be applied for imaging applications. Our program integrates multidisciplinary research approaches, including theory-based molecular design, chemical synthesis, spectroscopic investigations, evaluations in biological systems and applications for disease diagnosis, ideal for training highly qualified personnel at the interfaces between chemistry, biology and translational medical technology.