Christopher Contag, Ph.D.
Professor of Pediatrics (Neonatology), of Microbiology and Immunology, and, by courtesy, of Radiology and of Bionengineering
Insertable, Implantable and Wearable Micro-optical Devices for the Early Detection of Cancer
Current technologies for the detection of cancer lack the sensitivity for early detection at times when therapy would be most effective, and cannot detect minimal residual disease that persists after conventional therapies. Therefore, it will be necessary to develop image-guided approaches for multiplexed molecular characterization of cancer and methods to visualize small numbers of cancer initiating cells. Imaging and sensing will need to move from detection limits of 1 cm to 1 mm, or even 100 µm diameter masses, and new technologies with this sensitivity need to be developed. Optical imaging has the sensitivity for this level of detection and there are a number of recent advances that will enable the use of optics in the clinic for cancer detection. New instruments based on micro-optical designs can be used to reach in the body to reveal microanatomic and molecular detail that are indicators of early cancers. We are advancing the technologies that enable miniaturization of 3-D scanning confocal microscopes and Raman endoscopes to examine tissue in situ for early anatomic and molecular indicators of disease, in real time, and at cellular resolution. These new devices will lead to a shift from the current diagnostic paradigm of biopsy followed by histopathology and recommended therapy, to one of non-invasive point-of-care diagnosis with the possibility of treatment in the same session. By creating the tools for point-of-care pathology we are reducing the time and distance between the patient and the diagnostic event, and changing the practice of medicine. The emerging combinations of instruments and molecular probe strategies will reveal disease states in finer detail and provide greater information to clinicians for more informed, and directed therapies. Personalized medicine is really molecular medicine and the new imaging and diagnostic tools that characterize molecular basis of disease are driving personalized care and early intervention.
Dr. Contag is a Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics, Radiology, Bioengineering and Microbiology & Immunology at Stanford University, and a member of BioX Faculty for interdisciplinary sciences, and of the Immunology Faculty.
Dr. Contag received his B.S. in Biology from the University of Minnesota, St. Paul in 1982. He received his Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis in 1988 where he did his dissertation research on the topic of viral infections of the central nervous system. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University from 1990-1994 in the Department of Microbiology where he studied mother-to-infant transmission of HIV, and then joined the faculty in Pediatrics at Stanford in 1995 with a joint appointment in Microbiology and Immunology and courtesy appointments in Radiology and Bioengineering. While studying viral diseases, Dr. Contag was inspired to create new imaging tools that would enable studying biology in living animals, and this lead to a series of new tools and technologies that have opened new windows into mammalian systems—these tools fundamentally changed the way we explore mammalian biology, and are used around the world by pharmaceutical companies, biotech companies and universities develop novel therapies.
Dr. Contag is the Associate Chief of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine, director of Stanford’s Center for Innovation in In Vivo Imaging (SCI3
) and co-director of the Molecular Imaging Program at Stanford (MIPS). Dr. Contag is a pioneer in the field of molecular imaging and is developing imaging approaches aimed at revealing molecular processes in living subjects, including humans, and advancing therapeutic strategies through imaging. His laboratory develops macroscopic and microscopic optical imaging tools and uses imaging to assess tissue responses to stress, reveal immune cell migration patterns, understand stem cell biology and advance biological therapies. He is a founding member and a past president of the Society for Molecular Imaging, and is a recipient of the Achievement Award from the Society for Molecular Imaging for his fundamental contributions to imaging. Dr. Contag is a Fellow of the World Molecular Imaging Society (WMIS) and currently President of WMIS. Dr. Contag was a founder of Xenogen Corp. (now part of Perkin Elmer) established to commercialize innovative imaging tools for biomedicine, and a founder of ConcentRx—a cancer therapy company.
The research missions of the Contag laboratory include: Engineering biological systems in a synthetic biology approach to build cells for directed tissue regeneration and therapy; and Developing and using noninvasive imaging tools that can simultaneously reveal the nuances of biological processes and provide an overall picture of disease states. The imaging tools we develop are sensitive and image over a range of scales from micro- to macroscopic, and are well-suited for the in vivo study of cellular and molecular biology. Imaging is used to guide the development of designer cells and assess function after transfer back into the host. We develop and use advanced microscopic tools with the aims of detecting and studying cancer at high resolution in vivo. These approaches use micro-optics to create miniaturized cofocal microscopes and Raman endoscopes that can reach inside the body to interrogate disease states. This is enabling point-of-care microscopy that is changing the diagnostic paradigm from biopsy and histopathology to one of in vivo pathology.