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Scientist profiles A-F

SRI profiles

Charles Cunningham, PhD

Senior scientist

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
2075 Bayview Ave., Room M7 613
Toronto, ON
M4N 3M5

Phone: 416-480-5021
Fax: 416-480-5021

Administrative Assistant: Kim Allen
Phone: 416-480-6100 ext. 65718


  • B.A.Sc., 1996, engineering science, University of Toronto, Canada
  • PhD, 2002, medical biophysics, U of T, Canada

Appointments and Affiliations:

Research Foci:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) physics
  • Contrast agents
  • Molecular imaging

Research Summary:

We are primarily focused on making images and measurements using the enzymes within living tissue, and studying how these change in disease. A recently developed method is used in which 13C-labeled biomolecules are prepared with a magnetic signal so they can be imaged using MRI. To do this, dynamic nuclear polarization is applied in order to magnetize concentrated samples of a substrate, such as 13C-labeled pyruvate, and the resulting solution is injected in vivo.

This new form of MRI contrast agent exhibits a change in frequency after its molecular structure has been changed. This can occur when carbon-13 labeled substrates are metabolized by cells, allowing direct imaging of metabolic enzyme reactions in living tissue. One important question being investigated is whether this new measurement provides the oncologist with more information about aggressive cancers, visible through increased lactate signal, as well as improved treatment options by enabling focal therapy and treatment response measurements.

We are also interested in the metabolic characterization of damaged heart muscle in order to detect the early stages of heart failure and select therapies, as well as metabolic characterization of cancer as a possible method for staging and for measuring response to therapy.

In addition a growing segment of the laboratory is investigating the fabrication of disposable medical devices, such as catheters and needles, that are designed to be useful in MRI-guided procedures. This project has a strong commercialization component.

Selected Publications:

See current publications list at PubMed.

  1. Dominguez Viqueira W, Lau AZ, Chen AP, Cunningham CH. Multichannel receiver coils for improved coverage in cardiac metabolic imaging using prepolarized (13) C substrates. Magn Reson Med. 2013 Jul;70(1):295–300.
  2. Chen AP, Hurd RE, Schroeder MA, Lau AZ, Gu YP, Lam WW, Barry J, Tropp J, Cunningham CH. Simultaneous investigation of cardiac pyruvate dehydrogenase flux, Krebs cycle metabolism and pH, using hyperpolarized [1,2-(13)C2]pyruvate in vivo. NMR Biomed. 2012 Feb;25(2):305–311.
  3. Chen AP, Hurd RE, Cunningham CH. Spin tagging for hyperpolarized ¹³C metabolic studies. J Magn Reson. 2012 Jan;214(1):319–323.
  4. Lau AZ, Chen AP, Hurd RE, Cunningham CH. Spectral-spatial excitation for rapid imaging of DNP compounds. NMR Biomed. 2011 Oct;24(8):988–996.
  5. Chen AP, Hurd RE, Gu YP, Wilson DM, Cunningham CH. (13)C MR reporter probe system using dynamic nuclear polarization. NMR Biomed. 2011 Jun;24(5):514–520.

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