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08:05 AM

Making Innovation at DU Available to the World

DU researchers collaborate with biotechnology company to develop commercial imager

In a chemistry lab at the University of Denver, a team of researchers has been steadily tweaking what looks like a miniature MRI machine designed for a mouse. The instrument is part of a decades-long project in which technology invented at DU is poised to enter the commercial market in 2017.

The DU team, from the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, is collaborating with Bruker BioSpin, a global biotechnology company, to develop a system for imaging biological processes in small living animals. The underlying technology has implications for medical research and much more.

“The technology we’ve developed here at DU greatly improves our ability to observe radicals that are important for applications ranging from imaging the physiology of living systems to solar energy materials and quantum computing,” says Professor Gareth Eaton from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “With this commercial partnership, Bruker is taking our innovation and making it available to the world.”

The imaging system, which is similar in concept to an MRI, is based on a technology called EPR (electron paramagnetic resonance). EPR is a method for studying molecules with unpaired electrons, or free radicals. Researchers can use it to measure oxygen in a living body. The resulting images of tissue physiology could provide, for example, real-time information about a cancerous tumor.

With the help of a grant from the National Cancer Institute, the DU research team has developed a rapid-scan EPR spectrometer. By sweeping the magnetic field thousands of times per second, the instrument provides a stronger signal and better information than previously was possible.

A team of Bruker engineers is currently converting the DU technology into a commercial instrument. They presented results from a prototype during the International EPR Symposium in Colorado last July.

Eaton and Professor Sandra Eaton, who together lead DU’s EPR Center, emphasize the collaborative nature of the project, as the two have been working with researchers from Bruker since 1984. The project has also provided an exceptional learning opportunity for both graduate and undergraduate students in the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, along with several students from the Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science. Over the years, nearly three dozen students have co-authored papers on EPR as a result of working with the team.

“The project has allowed undergrads to be involved in truly cutting-edge instrumentation and methodology development,” Gareth Eaton says.