Physicist pairs with pharmaceutical scientist to design nano-particles for cancer imaging

Scientists partner with MaRS Innovation to advance technology to market

Toronto, November 19, 2009 – In the drive to improve early detection and treatment of cancer, a pair of Toronto scientists has developed a unique technology that combines contrast agents with targeted, long-lasting nano-particles for use in multiple medical imaging platforms.

While contrast agents are routinely injected into patients to enhance the quality of medical images, different agents are currently required for various imaging modes (e.g. MRI, CT, PET) each with inherent strengths and limitations. By combining more than one contrast agent into a nano-particle for use in multiple types of imaging, not only are physicians and researchers able to use lower doses of contrast agents (with lower toxicity) but the nano-particle also enables targeted delivery to, and retention by, specific tumours.

This nano-particle technology comes from the labs of two leading scientists in distinct yet complementary disciplines in the evolution of medical imaging – biophysics and pharmacy:

  • Dr. David Jaffray is a Senior Scientist in the Division of Biophysics and Bioimaging at the Ontario Cancer Institute, Head of the Radiation Physics Department at Princess Margaret Hospital and a Professor of Radiation Oncology and Medical Biophysics at the University of Toronto; and
  • Dr. Christine Allen is an Associate Professor in the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto (currently on sabbatical at the STTARR Innovation Centre at University Health Network).

“Nano-particle technology enables us to route the contrast agent differently within the body – making it circulate longer and target disease processes for detection and characterization,” Dr. Jaffray explained. “With the growing demand to characterize disease through imaging, this platform shows genuine promise.”

“The encouraging pre-clinical data emerging from our laboratories and those of our collaborators has demonstrated the potential of this technology platform in a wide range of pre-clinical and clinical applications, “ added Dr. Allen. “This flexible technology platform can be easily tailored to meet the needs of specific pre-clinical and clinical applications.”

MaRS Innovation (MI) and the University Health Network (UHN) have now entered into an agreement to collaboratively commercialize this promising technology.

“Here is a strong example of how collaboration across scientific disciplines spawns innovation,” said Dr. Christopher Paige, Vice President, Research, UHN, which consists of Toronto General, Toronto Western and Princess Margaret Hospitals. The scope of research and complexity of cases at University Health Network has made it a national and international source for discovery, education and patient care. Affiliated with the University of Toronto, it has the largest hospital-based research program in Canada, with major research in cardiology, transplantation, neurosciences, oncology, surgical innovation, infectious diseases and genomic medicine.

This collaborative commercialization deal – the third for MaRS Innovation in five months – is another step on the path to converting outstanding science into products and services that enhance Canada’s economy and the quality of life for Canadians and others around the world. “This technology could revolutionize what is a multi-billion dollar market,” said Dr. Rafi Hofstein, CEO of MaRS Innovation. “The first step will be to produce commercial samples for the pre-clinical market, which will generate cash flow and support developing the information required to roll the technology into the larger clinical market.”

About MaRS Innovation
MaRS Innovation ( provides an integrated commercialization platform that harnesses the economic potential of the exceptional discovery pipeline of 14 leading Toronto academic institutions. MaRS Innovation is a non-profit organization with an independent industry-led Board of Directors, funded through the Government of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence and contributions of its member institutions.

About MaRS
MaRS Discovery District ( is a large scale, mission driven innovation centre located in Toronto and networked across Ontario, focused on building Canada’s next generation of technology companies. MaRS works closely with entrepreneurs to grow and scale their ventures into global market leaders in life sciences and health care, information, communications and digital media technologies, cleantech, advanced materials and engineering, as well as innovative social purpose business.

For more information contact: Linda Quattrin, 416.673.8104 or