Case study: Louise Tear

2014 CDT student Louise Tear is working on the synthesis of new imaging contrast agents

Louise joined ONBI because she wanted to undertake a DPhil in a different field from that of her Masters project, something with a medical application. Her search for a potential supervisor led her into discussions with Prof. Stephen Faulkner, who recommended she apply to the CDT. That recommendation proved invaluable, she says, because it did not just broaden her perspective on medical imaging, but has provided concrete assistance in both finding the ideal project and equipping her with the skills to undertake it.


Her project involves chemical synthesis, as well as cellular work and the use of MRI and, possibly, ultrasound. Contrast agents for Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) are used to enhance the visualization of water in the body. The aim of Louise’s research is to develop contrast agents which can have the same effect on phosphorus-containing compounds. Phosphorus species play a key role in energy processes and Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is the main energy source in the body. Improving the detection of compounds like ATP would help to determine if tissues are energy starved and therefore could improve the diagnosis of diseases such as heart failure. However, a contrast agent for phosphorus has yet to be developed.

Contrast Agent

Fig 1: Gadolinium (Gd) contrast agent which binds to Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP)

Louise’s short project investigated the effect of a compound, which had been previously made in her supervisor’s group, on phosphate species in a solution. Her DPhil builds on this by investigating whether the same compound can enter cells and come into contact with the necessary phosphate species. She can then look at increasing the amount which enters the cell, by changing the compound or using different techniques. Her second short project involved using ultrasound to improve the uptake of compounds into cells, and this may also be applied in her DPhil. This, she says, is what she finds most satisfying about her research - the ability to take the compound from the chemistry lab and investigate the effects in cells, enabling much quicker improvements to the compound as the problems and difficulties are discovered in application.