Chemical engineering professor receives ADECA funding for MRI agent research

Published: Dec 15, 2022 8:15 AM

By Virginia Speirs

Governor Kay Ivey has awarded $1.3 million to stimulate new research and development at three Alabama universities and university systems, with Auburn University receiving more than $180,000 in funds. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grants.

Auburn University received $184,773 from the fund to conduct research to develop an MRI agent that is optimized for the imaging of cardiovascular disease. The principal investigator on the project is Allan David, John W. Brown associate professor of chemical engineering and associate dean for research.

Currently, contrast agents that are based on the element gadolinium are used during MRI scans to improve detection of disease. These gadolinium-based agents, which can be toxic if retained in the body, are designed to be flushed out of the body quickly. David and the co-principal investigators on the project are working on iron-based contrast agent, made of magnetic nanoparticles, that are attractive for biomedical applications because they are safer and provide enhanced images on MRI scans.

“We are working on an iron-based particle that would clear quickly, like gadolinium,” David said. “In my research group, we delve into methods to take a heterogeneous formulation and make it more homogeneous, so we get better control of the properties of these particles.”

David’s research team is able to modify the surface of these particles to provide specific properties that may be desirable. For example, modification of the particles to minimize allergic reactions, improve stability once injected into the body, or prevent them from accumulating in certain parts of the body are all possible.

The grants come from the Alabama Research and Development Enhancement Fund (ARDE), a state-funded program that was created in 2019 under the Alabama Innovation Act. The amount granted from the ARDE Fund matches any non-state funds that are expended on the projects.

“We went through a process where we interviewed over 300 radiologists and MRI technicians, MRI facility managers, and we learned about this industry and their pain points,” David said. “We identified potential areas where our technology could meet their needs. Based on that, we decided we would go ahead and start our company.”

David, with two of his former doctoral students, Tareq Anani and Barry Yeh, created a startup company called Nanoxort in 2018, which received NSF funding in 2021. The company was created from the research that David and his then-students performed in the lab with magnetic nanoparticles.

Today, Nanoxort operates on Auburn’s campus and has three co-founders and a manager: David, Anani, Yeh and Abhinav Sannidhi.

“Our partnership with Auburn University has been critical to the success of Nanoxort,” Anani said. “Starting with LAUNCH funding in 2018, and continuing now with the ADECA funding, the relationship between Nanoxort and Auburn University has been nothing short of amazing. ADECA funding will be used to further test our promising MRI contrast agent in an in vivo preclinical animal model of vascular disease, and brings us one step closer to FDA clinical testing. We look forward to continuing this relationship for a long time.”

David agrees.

“Auburn University has been very supportive,” he said. “Before we even formed the company, the Auburn University Launch program awarded some funds to do some of the initial work through which we developed this concept. So, Auburn University has been very supportive from the very beginning.”

Media Contact: Cassie Montgomery,, 334.844.3668
Allan David

Allan David

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