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             We develop chemical biology tools to track essential biomolecules and second messengers in vivo. The ultimate aim is to apply molecular tools to visualize and quantify crucial bio-molecules involved in cell signalling, autophagy, and neuro-degeneration. The modus operandi is to design and synthesize selective fluorescence and magnetic resonance imaging probes that can image target molecules in living systems.


             One of the biggest challenges in molecular imaging is to detect nano- to micro-molar concentrations of bio-molecules in vivo. We use fundamental coordination chemistry principles to incorporate ‘turn-on’ features into optical, magnetic resonance, and multimodal probes such that the sensors give a selective signal enhancement only the presence of the specific target molecule, improving the detection sensitivity by several folds. Our group is particularly interested in developing sensors for metal ions implicated in neuro-degeneration, phospholipids in cell signaling, and autophagy markers including proton fluxes. The major challenge in all these systems is that the target molecules are not genetically encoded and hence can be only tracked indirectly by using genetically modified proteins. Detection specificity is low due to the interaction of the modified protein with multiple small molecules. The sensitivity suffers as well due to background signals from unbound proteins. To address these challenges we bring in ‘turn-on’ features into both small molecule and protein based probes. In developing the probes we synthesize and engineer small molecule organics, metal complexes, nano-conjugates, and modified proteins each with a targeted sensing application. These probes are characterized for their specificity and finally, optical and magnetic resonance techniques are used for both in vitro and in vivo imaging in appropriate cellular and animal models.

Datta Group

Chemical Biology & Molecular Imaging