Real-time metabolic analysis of 3D cell cultures using organ-on-a-chip devices and nuclear magnetic resonance

Group: Molecular Imaging for Precision Medicine
Group Leader: Irene Marco-Rius (

Research project

The proposed project will develop non-invasive assays based on magnetic resonance (MR) to study glucose metabolism and further the understanding of metabolic diseases such as cancer, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and muscle dystrophy, aiming to provide a platform for personalized drug testing on organ-on-a-chip systems.

We use hyperpolarized 13C magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and spectroscopy (MRS), where signals from endogenous molecules are detected with chemical specificity. This technique allows us to detect the chemical reaction kinetics of an individual metabolic pathway in real-time, in vivo and in a non-invasive manner. Hyperpolarized 13C MRI/MRS has been used to study metabolism in cells, in vivo in animals and it is already transitioning into phase I clinical trials (both in the USA and Europe). In our group, we aim to bring this technique to detect real-time metabolism in organ-in-chips, working on methodology for hyperpolarized 13C MR and organ-in-chip devices as well as identifying new biomarkers and potential MR probes of abnormal cell metabolism and biochemical pathways.

Relevant references to this project:

1. Mohammadi et al. Engineered muscle tissues for disease modeling and drug screening applications (2017) Curr. Pharm. Des., 23 (20), pp. 2991-3004.

2. Marco-Rius, I., Comment, A. 2018. In vivo hyperpolarized 13C MRS and MRI applications. In Encyclopedia of Magnetic Resonance. 7: 167-178; Harris, R. K., Wasylishen, R. L., Eds.; John Wiley & Sons, Ltd: Chichester, UK. DOI: 10.1002/9780470034590.emrstm1592

3. Marco-Rius et al. Photo-generated radicals for in vivo hyperpolarized 13C-MR with photo-sensitive metabolic substrates. (2018) J. Am. Chem. Soc.


Job position description

As part of our efforts to create a platform for tailored drug testing, the successful candidate will be involved in the technical development of hyperpolarization methods and 13C substrates, as well as carrying out innovative work on the tissue engineering side of the project. She/He will also be involved in the biological and biochemical aspects of the projects, learning about 2D and 3D cell cultures, in vivo experiments with small animal models, biochemical assays and identification of new biomarkers. As part of the team, the candidate will interact with chemists, physicists, engineers, biologists, biochemists and biotechnologists.

This multidisciplinary project is at the interface between physical chemistry, biochemistry and tissue engineering.