In this CAREER project, funded by the Chemical Structure, Dynamics & Mechanisms B Program of the Chemistry Division, Professor Jefferson Chan of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is developing a new class of imaging agents that convert light into ultrasound for the study metal ions in brain. Various disease (including a number of neurological disorders) are triggered if the concentrations of these metals in the body are changed. To understand the role of metals in the body under both normal and diseased conditions, an effective determination of their concentration is highly desirable. To achieve this goal, synthetic methods are used to develop chemicals that produce a different sound signals upon interacting with a metal. These sounds signals are used to non-invasively make 3D images of the brain (or other organs of interest). This project lies at the interface of organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and chemical biology and has impacts on human health, especially brain health. This research group is well-positioned to provide the highest level of education and training for all students including those underrepresented in science. The broader impacts this project focus on providing research opportunities to underrepresented minority students from five local community colleges. Undergraduate research experiences have been shown to have a notable effect on maintaining interest in STEM fields.

Owing to the diverse and important roles of metal ions in biology, nature has evolved sophisticated mechanisms to maintain metal ion homeostasis, especially in the brain. However, various disease states can emerge if this fine balance is perturbed leading to various neurological disorders. One imaging technique that can be used to non-invasively image the brain is photoacoustic imaging, which is a powerful new modality that utilizes light to produce soundwaves in tissue. The soundwaves can then be detected by transducers and converted into 3D images. Because sound scattering in tissue is low, this technology can be used to obtain resolution in the micron range at centimeter depths. The goal of this project is to elucidate the role of metal ions in the brain through the development of metal ion-specific imaging agents for photoacoustic imaging. Specifically, the proposed work in this application focuses on studying copper and calcium.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Chemistry (CHE)
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Tingyu Li
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University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
United States
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