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Cellular Imaging

The Cellular Imaging Section is located in the Institute for Cell Engineering. We engineer cells so they can be detected with non-invasive imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging and magnetic particle imaging. Our primary mission is to develop new magnetic tracers and cell labeling procedures to study the fate of therapeutic stem cells and immune cells after injection, also known as “cell tracking”.

We have been part of several clinical studies performed around the world, using cell labeling techniques developed in our lab. Targets of cell therapy include dysmyelination, multiple sclerosis, cancer, spinal cord injury, stroke, and diabetes. We use cell scaffolds and hydrogels to embed our cells for optimal survival post-transplantation and are able to visualize the biodegradation of these gels in vivo, with applications in regenerative medicine. Finally, we develop novel MRI contrast agents and theranostics with clinical applicability. These include both metallic (i.e. paramagnetic) and non-metallic (i.e. diaCEST) agents, and fluorinated tracers and capsules for 19F MRI and 19F iCEST MRI.

Our Team

  • Jeff W.M. Bulte, M.S., Ph.D.

    Director of Cellular Imaging, The Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering, Director of Scientific Communications, Department of Radiology, Professor of Radiology and Radiological Science

    Jeff W.M. Bulte headshot
  • Dian Arifin, Ph.D.


    Dian Arifin headshot
  • Ali Shakeri-Zadeh, Ph.D.

    Assistant Professor

    Ali Shakeri-Zadeh, Ph.D.
  • Aline Thomas, Ph.D.

    Assistant Professor

    Aline Thomas headshot
  • Shreyas Kuddannaya, Ph.D.

    Research Associate

    Shreyas Kuddannaya, Ph.D.
  • Behnaz Ghaemi, Ph.D.

    Postdoctoral Fellow

    behnaz ghaemi headshot
  • Marzieh Salimi, Ph.D

    Postdoctoral Fellow

    ramesh marasini headshot
  • Chao Wang, Ph.D.

    Postdoctoral Fellow

    chao wang headshot

Research Highlights

intracellular self-assembly image 

Intracellular self-assembly of OlsaCEST-MRI detectable, DNA methylation-inhibiting theranostic nanoparticles.

The single molecule compound Olsa(green)-CBT (pink)-RVRR (blue) is injected intravenously, passes through the cell membrane with the aid of the cell-penetrating peptide RVRR (representing multiple arginines), and the small peptide substrate RVRR is cleaved by the tumor-associated enzyme furin (purple). The single Olsa-CBT residues are then self-assembled into nanoparticles through a glutathione (GSH) and 2-cyanobenzothiazole (CBT)-mediated biocompatible click condensation reaction followed by π-π stacking.

From: Y. Yuan, J. Zhang, X. Qi, S. Li, G. Liu, X. Song, M.T. McMahon, J.W.M. Bulte. Furin-mediated intracellular self-assembly of olsalazine nanoparticles for enhanced MR imaging and tumor therapy. Nat. Mat. 18, 1376-1383 (2019).

Y. Yuan, P. Raj, J. Zhang, S. Siddhanta, I. Barman, J.W.M. Bulte. Furin-mediated self-assembly of olsalazine nanoparticles for targeted Raman imaging of tumors. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., doi: 10.1002/anie.202014839.

Magnetizing Cells for Tracking | Science: Out of the Box

Although it has great potential for treating cancer, spinal cord injuries, diabetes and many other serious diseases, there are challenges to making stem cell therapy a reality. Watch cell imaging specialist Jeff Bulte explain his pioneering work in tracking stem cells in the body — and how it can help lead to better stem cell treatments by reporting stem cells’ location and whether they are still alive.

MRI Reporter Gene

We developed a new gene construct "CEST reporter" which after its incorporation in glioma cells resulted in the production of magnetic resonance imaging MRI visible proteins. These protein-expressing tumor cells were transplanted into the brain of living mice and allowed to grow. A week after transplantation we imaged these live mice with MRI which enabled us to clearly see the tumor cells growing in the brain. We are now using our new MRI reporter gene technology with cell therapy where we track the survival growth and migration of transplanted stem cells.

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