top of page

TR&D 1

Research Overview

Overview: Imaging and theranostics to detect and promote an immune reactive tumor microenvironment

Treatment with immune checkpoints inhibitors has had unprecedented responses in turning some deadly cancers into chronic diseases. Despite these successes, 80% of cancers have complex tumor microenvironments (TMEs) that are resistant to immune checkpoint inhibitors. Although we have begun to uncover complex signals that provide a formidable barrier to immune cell infiltration and cancer cell killing, this requires sequential and multiple tumor biopsies from multiple tumor sites to delineate this signaling network and to assess heterogeneity between tumors in the same patient before and after treatment with different therapies. Non-invasive translatable imaging methods that provide spatio-temporal information on mechanisms that create barriers to immune cell infiltration, provide novel theranostic strategies to improve the outcome of cancer immunotherapy (CIT), and detect response to treatment are urgently needed to accelerate progress in this field.
The overall goals of TR&D1 are to develop and validate non-invasive imaging probes that can be used by the CPs and SPs to identify a TME hostile to CIT, to provide novel theranostic approaches to overcome such an environment to facilitate CIT, and to identify the response of tumors to CIT using artificial intelligence (AI) integrated with spectroscopy of plasma samples. We intend to accomplish these goals in the following three aims by building upon advances made during the previous funding period, and by combining our expertise in
multimodal imaging of the TME, PET/MR imaging including spectroscopy and chemical exchange saturation transfer (CEST), and theranostics. We will integrate, for the first time, artificial intelligence (AI) into CEST and metabolomic analysis of human plasma samples to predict and detect the response of clear cell renal cell carcinomas (ccRCC) to CIT.

Aim 1: To develop novel PET and CEST MRI probes based on decorin to expand understanding of the spatio-temporal dynamics between collagen 1, decorin, hypoxia, extracellular pH (pHe), and immune checkpoint expression in syngeneic  models of pancreatic and breast cancer using multimodal imaging.

Aim 2: To develop and validate multi-modality imaging/multiplexed siRNA theranostics of myeloid derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) in the spleen and tumor to create an immune reactive TME in syngeneic models of pancreatic and breast cancer.

Aim 3: To integrate AI with 1H MR and CEST spectra of human plasma from patients with ccRCC to predict and detect response to CIT.

Recent Publications


Collaborating Project #1: New Tools to Address Chronic Disease

Collaborating Project #3: Site-specific Immune Cell Activation Detection for Improving Individualized Cancer Immunotherapy

Collaborating Project #4: Quantitative PET Imaging of Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC)

Collaborating Project #6: Tumor Microenvironment Crosstalk Drives Early Lesions in Pancreatic Cancer

Collaborating Project #8: Optimizing Systemic Immunotherapy for Personalized Brain Metastasis Treatment

Service Project #2: Cellular senescence network: new imaging tools for arthritis imaging

Service Project #5: Arginine metabolism regulates myeloid immune suppression in glioblastoma

Service Project #7: Imaging acidosis and immune therapy in PDAC

Service Project #9: Center for Molecular Imaging Technology and Translation (CMITT)

Service Project #10: Magnetic Resonance Fingerprinting of Tumor Vascular Perfusion and Acidosis


TR&D Team

Portrait of Zaver Bhujwalla, TR&D1 PI of JHU Molecular Imaging P41



Portrait of Sridhar Nimmagadda, TR&D1 PI of JHU Molecular Imaging P41



Portrait of Michael McMahon, TR&D1 PI of JHU Molecular Imaging P41



bottom of page