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Molecular Imaging Center


Scientific Director - Vijay Sharma

Mission Statement

The Chemistry Core was organized to design and develop new imaging probes adopting an unbiased multimodality strategy for understanding biochemical processes at the molecular level. To accomplish this objective, the Center brings together a diverse group of interdisciplinary scientists from within the Washington University Medical School community on a single platform and provides support to their preclinical research. It includes research scientists from the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, Division of Biology & Biomedical Sciences (DBBS), and Siteman Cancer Center who together explore cancer biology and apply innovative chemical tools to detect biochemical events at the cellular level within broad domain of molecular imaging.

Washington University has a long and distinguished history in discovery and development of PET and SPECT radiotracers for diagnosis of the disease processes and monitoring effectiveness of therapies via application of these modalities. Over the years, the process of drug development has become an increasingly more complex, expensive, and intensely regulated. Acknowledging these diverse challenges, research community within the Washington University Molecular Imaging Center recognized the opportunity and need to expand and coordinate its efforts in design and development of specialized biochemical probes as versatile tools for applications in preclinical research. To promote interdisciplinary research efforts independent of modalities, the broad mission for MICC involves the discovery and development of agents beneficial in wide array of imaging technologies such as SPECT, PET, Fluorescence, Chemiluminescence, Optical, Nanotechnology, and Bioluminescence imaging for diagnosis of diseased states and monitoring of therapeutic responses at anatomical, functional, and molecular levels.

Functionality Description

The Chemistry Core is an interdisciplinary and inter-departmental facility that promotes and facilitates the development of new reagents and optimization of existing ones for molecular imaging applications. Major activities covered under the MICC are outlined below:

  • Support the early preclinical phase development of novel agents for diagnosis of diseases and monitoring therapeutic effects of drugs.
  • Coordinate and support activities of other investigators (involved in drug discovery, target identification, elucidation of drug-resistance pathways, and structure-function analyses); translational laboratory and core testing facilities; regulatory aspects of radiotracers via both intramural and extramural; and on-site contract research. 
  • Develop radiotracers for gene therapy applications.
  • Provide quality controls for reagents used in biomedical imaging applications.
  • Support laboratory of NanoSPECT imaging and other relevant core facilities critical to the missions of the Molecular Imaging Center.
  • Provide pharmacokinetic studies and metabolite analyses for molecular imaging projects.
  • Provide education and training to new investigators to attract young scientists to the field of molecular imaging.

Laboratory Resources

Molecular Biology/Biochemistry

  • UV/Vis spectrophotometer (Thermo Scientific)
  • Gel imaging system (Gel Doc XR, Bio-Rad)
  • Microplate reader x2 (iMark, Bio-Rad; Multiskan Go, Thermo Scientific)
  • Cell harvester (Brandel)


  • LC/MS (500 Ion Trap LC/MS MS/MS System, Agilent)
  • Fluorometer (Cary Eclipse Fluorescence Spectrophotometer, Varian)
  • FT-IR (Spectrum One Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrophotometer, PerkinElmer)
  • UV/Vis spectrophotometer (Lambda 35 UV/Vis Spectrophotometer, PerkinElmer)
  • Synthetic Microwave (Discover, CEM)
  • HPLC systems with computer-controlled gradient (Waters) x3
  • HPLC system with computer-controlled gradient (Waters), equipped with a β-radioisotope detector (Biodex) and γ-radioisotope detectors (Flow Count, Bioscan)
  • Well-type NaI gamma counter (Packard Cobra II, PerkinElmer)
  • Liquid scintillation counter (LS 6500, Beckman)

Tissue Culture

  • Dedicated tissue culture room
  • CO2 incubators x6
  • Biosafety hoods x3


  • Dedicated Computational and Analysis Computer Room
  • Computational Computer: Gold, Schrodinger, Spartan
  • Analysis and Processing Computers x2: SPSS, Matlab, InVivoScope
  • General Computers x13: Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Acrobat Professional, Endnote, Living Image, GraphPad Prism, ChemBioOffice

Univeristy Resources

  • MicroPET/CT (Small Animal Cancer Imaging Core, Radiological Chemistry Laboratory)
  • MRI (Small Animal Cancer Imaging Core)
  • Confocal microscopes (Hope Center for Neurological Disorders x2, Department of Developmental Biology x1)
  • Multi-photon microscope (Hope Center for Neurological Disorders)
  • Bioluminscence microscope (Herzog Lab)
  • University machine shop and electronics shop
  • Dark room facilities
  • 400 MHz NMR spectrometer (Varian)
  • Histology and Microscopy Core

Relevant Publications
    Metalloprobes: Synthesis, characterization, and potency of a novel gallium(III) complex in human epidermal carcinoma cells
    Harpstrite SE, Prior JL, Rath NP, Sharma V
    J Inorg Biochem 2007; 101(10): 1347-53.
    Permeation peptide conjugates for in vivo imaging applications
    Bullok KE, Violini S, Prantner AM, Gammon ST, Villalobos VM, Sharma V, Piwnica-Worms D
    Molec Imaging 2006; 5(1): 1-15.
    Imaging pulmonary transgene expression with positron-emission tomography
    Richard JC, Zhou Z, Ponde DE, Dence CS, Factor P, Reynold PN, Luker GD, Sharma V, Ferkol T, Piwnica-Worms D, Schuster D
    Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2003; 167(9): 1257-63.
    Quantitative analysis of permeation peptide complexes labeled with technetium-99m: Chiral and sequence-specific effects on net cell uptake
    Gammon ST, Villalobos VM, Prior JL, Sharma V, Piwnica-Worms D
    Bioconjug Chem. 2003; 14(2): 368-76.
    Noninvasive imaging of protein-protein interactions in living animals
    Luker GD, Sharma V, Pica CM, Dahlheimer JL, Li W, Ocheskey JA, Ryan CE, Piwnica-Worms H, Piwnica-Worms D
    Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2002; 99(10): 6961-6.