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Gang Han receives UMass Tech seed funding to explore safer class of MRI contrast agents

Gang Han, PhD

Gang Han, PhD, professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology, received seed funding from the UMass Technology Development Fund to exploring a new, safer, biogenic class of MRI contrast agents as an alternative for commonly used gadolinium-based contrast agents.

Dr. Han was one of eight University of Massachusetts faculty members from the five-campus system to receive $25,000 in seed funding. The Technology Development Fund helps commercialize scientific breakthroughs at UMass and is overseen by the Office of Technology Commercialization and Ventures at the UMass Office of the President.

“The contrast agents we will be pursuing are biogenic, which means they will be a much more biocompatible and less immunogenic injectable than traditional synthetic, gadolinium-based MRI imaging probes. If successful, this will provide a new class of noninvasive platforms for numerous MRI applications, both for fundamental science and clinical patient care and disease diagnosis,” Dr. Han said.

MRI contrast agents using gadolinium, a heavy metal, have raised safety questions. Gadolinium retention in vital organs such as the brain and kidneys can potentially lead to serious complications like nephrogenic systemic fibrosis and accompanying organ failure. Warning guidelines adopted by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration in 2017 outlined that gadolinium can remain in tissues for months and years after injections of the contrast drugs. In Europe, the Pharmacovigilance and Risk Assessment Committee of the European Medicine Agency has recommended the suspension of major gadolinium contrast agents in the market.

The UMass Technology Development Fund provides awards for research that addresses some of the most pressing issues facing the region, the nation and the world, often laying the groundwork for major breakthroughs.

“With this program, we’re investing in faculty ingenuity across our five campuses and helping to bring cutting-edge research to market,” UMass President Marty Meehan said. “As the commonwealth’s public research university, it’s critical that we support the researchers who are driving the commonwealth forward and developing solutions to the problems we face, especially during these challenging times.”

“The projects we’re investing in today will solve problems we’re likely to face tomorrow,” said Katherine Newman, UMass System Chancellor of Academic Programs. “Supporting the early stage work of our extraordinary researchers and helping them translate their discoveries into marketable technology will bolster the commonwealth’s economy and improve our quality of life.”

Since 2004, UMass has invested nearly $3 million in faculty R&D projects, leading to more than $22 million in follow-on investment generating at least 10 commercial licenses and patents.

Funding for the annual awards comes from commercial licensing income generated by previous faculty discoveries. UMass has a robust record of commercializing its academic research and typically ranks among the top 25 universities in a national survey of income generated by technology transfer.

Projects are chosen for their commercial viability in hopes that development of the technology will lead to a startup company or licensing agreement.

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