Sept. 4, 2018

On a quiet, gleamingly lit floor of the UC Davis Genome and Biomedical Sciences Building is a center to help researchers picture their medical experiments – literally.

The Center for Molecular and Genomic Imaging (CMGI) offers investigators from across UC Davis and elsewhere access to a vast array of the latest equipment specially engineered to provide dedicated, state-of-the-art, noninvasive animal and biospecimen medical imaging.

“At CMGI, we develop and provide tools that can track disease or treatment precisely in a non-destructive manner,” said Dr. Abhijit Chaudhari who, together with Dr. Julie Sutcliffe, directs the facility, with partners across campus including the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, MIND Institute, UC Davis CounterACT Center of Excellence and the California National Primate Research Center. “We’re a proud part of the 17 UC Davis Core Facilities providing support for students, investigators, labs and schools.”


Created in 2002, the CMGI was inspired by the increasing use of animal models for the study of diseases, and the scientific need for assessing these diseases – and treatments – quantitatively and over longer periods of time. Chaudhari, who along with other faculty is familiar with such facilities, noted that, while other places may offer some similar services, UC Davis truly has taken workflow and logistics into account.

“While core facilities or equivalent facilities for small-animal and biospecimen imaging are available at most major research institutions, the resources typically are split across buildings, departments or even campuses,” he said, crediting his predecessor Dr. Simon Cherry – inventor of the microPET and PET/MRI technologies who still is part of the UC Davis Biomedical Engineering Department — with envisioning, designing and creating the UC Davis CMGI facility when the department’s entire building was being constructed. “Plus radiochemistry or cyclotron facilities at many campuses are shared with resources for human imaging, making access for animal researchers difficult. Here, we have everything we need to succeed.”

CMGI’s one-stop services include:

  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET) – PET is a noninvasive, sensitive tool that uses radioactive tracers to view molecular targets, biochemical pathways or drugs “in vivo” – in live subjects.
  • Single Photo Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) – SPECT allows simultaneous detection of more than one radionuclide and can be used for measuring perfusion (the passage of fluids through circulatory systems), labeling cells and for targeting cell-surface receptors and antigens through radiolabeled peptides and antibodies.
  • X-Ray Computed Tomography (CT) – A CT scanner provides high-resolution, 3D anatomical imaging and features two devices: one for in-vivo, whole-body animal imaging and another for specimen imaging.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – The MRI also provides high-resolution anatomical and functional imaging, but improved quality for soft tissues.
  • Optical Imaging – Using the phenomena of bioluminescence and fluorescence, photons emitted can be detected and quantified by CMGI’s two charge-coupled device cameras.
  • Radiochemistry/Cyclotron – The CMGI’s Radiochemistry Facility is equipped for on-site production of radioisotopes and custom synthesis of radiotracers to support the PET and nuclear medical imaging.

While the names of some of these pieces of equipment sound fairly familiar to anyone who’s had an X-ray or an MRI at their local hospital, don’t hop on the CMGI equipment to scan your sprained ankle: All of their tools specifically are designed for smaller subjects.

“All of our equipment has been engineered especially to scan animals, not humans,” said Chaudhari, sharing that, as an example, the CMGI MRI scans at 7 Tesla — a measurement of magnetic-field strength — instead of a human MRI’s 3 Tesla. “You might think that animals may not need such powerful equipment, but it’s in fact the opposite – the smaller the animal, the higher the power needed to get the very best, highest-quality medical images of their smaller systems. One centimeter might not mean as much on human body, but one centimeter for a mouse is huge! That said, a number of these developed imaging approaches have been translated to improve human imaging.”

And at CMGI, all animal subjects are held in highest esteem, and the facility maintains accreditation to ensure animals – which are medically monitored at all times — are treated responsibly, ethically and comfortably.


Each year, CMGI serves 100 different campus labs to help researchers better understand a wide array of key medical and biological issues like cancer-tumor growth and elimination, physiological systems, chemicals’ effects on brain cells, the long-range effectiveness of medicines, disease progress over time, the implication of gene eliminations and how drugs travel through the body. And while much of CMGI’s work is for the improvement of human health, other non-traditional experiments take place as well, such as:

  • High-resolution scanning and characterization of the Chelyabinsk and Misfit Flats dry-lake meteorites
  • Tracking nanoparticles in lettuce leaves
  • Understanding “jealousy” in non-human primates
  • Elucidating biting behavior and skull biomechanics of moray eels.

CMGI experts also train about 300 students annually. Undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows – including many from the UC Davis Biomedical Engineering Department – often have the ability and training to run almost all of the complex equipment, not just for themselves, but for other visiting researchers: a hands-on learning experience that strengthens both their own and others’ knowledge.

“I’m really proud of the training in state-of-the-art imaging technology that CMGI provides to our students and trainees, hence contributing toward improving their knowledge base and job prospects,” said Chaudhari.

Chaudhari reminds everyone that, while the CMGI facility’s priority is to help UC Davis researchers, this unique resource is available to everyone whose research can be strengthened and supported through animal and biospecimen imaging. What’s more, the CMGI has a pilot program to support investigators in generating preliminary data for grant applications.

“I really enjoy leading a talented group of our staff scientists and collaborating with all of our clients to harness the merits of in-vivo imaging technology to answer critical scientific questions,” he said.


To find out more about the CMGI facility including services, appointments, training and rates for both UC Davis researchers and other clients, please visit