Mark Pagel

Research Interests

My research program, the Contrast Agent Molecular Engineering Laboratory (CAMEL) develops chemical agents that change the contrast of biomedical images. These contrast agents are designed to respond to molecular biomarkers of biological process and pathologies. This molecular information is used to predict response to therapy before the therapy is applied, monitor the delivery of therapy to targeted tissues, and evaluate the early-stage effects of the therapy. These diagnostic methods that affect the choice of therapy are designed to provide personalized medicine for each individual patient.

CAMEL primarily focuses on the development of contrast agents for Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). In particular, CAMEL has developed a new type of MRI contrast agent that can detect molecular biomarkers through Chemical Exchange Saturation Transfer (CEST). CAMEL has also developed CEST MRI methods for pre-clinical and clinical studies, and has also developed methods that rapidly synthesize CEST contrast agents. CAMEL also develops contrast agents for optical imaging, particularly focusing on applications of optical imaging that use multiple agents to improve the specificity of molecular imaging.

CAMEL is affiliated with the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Interdisciplinary Program, the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, the Department of Medical Imaging, the University of Arizona Cancer Center, and the Institute for Collaborative BioResearch (BIO5) at the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ. These affiliations reflect the interdisciplinary research approach undertaken by CAMEL and the supportive environment for biomedical research at the University of Arizona.

Teaching Mission
CAMEL supports the teaching and training mission of the University of Arizona. The CAMEL laboratories provide an outstanding training environment for graduate and undergraduate students from a variety of disciplines, including biomedical engineering, chemistry & biochemistry, optical sciences, and computer science. In addition, I regularly teach a graduate-level course for biomedical engineers, BME 510: “Cell Biology for Engineers,” which covers basic cell biology from a quantitative, design-driven perspective. I also teach an undergraduate-level course for chemists and biochemists, CHEM 481: “Biophysical Chemistry” that covers quantum mechanics and spectroscopy as applied to biochemistry and biotechnology. These multidisciplinary teaching roles further strengthen the teaching mission of CAMEL.

The concept of CAMEL was inspired by the Imaging in 2020 meeting held in 2001 at the Jackson Lake Lodge, Jackson, WY. This meeting facilitates open and effective communication among basic and clinical researchers from many interdisciplinary fields, and evaluates the opportunities and challenges for the development & clinical translation of molecular imaging by 2020 and beyond. CAMEL is founded on open communication and interdisciplinary research that leads to the development & clinical translation of molecular imaging.

CAMEL was first established in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Case Western Reserve University in 2003. I started this research program after leaving the pharmaceutical industry to return to academia, to contribute to the high-risk high-reward field of molecular imaging. CAMEL pioneered the development of responsive CEST MRI contrast agents in 2003-2005, and demonstrated the first in vivo MRI studies with paramagnetic CEST agents in 2006-2007. CAMEL also developed new synthesis methods to create new types of MRI contrast agents.

In 2008, I moved CAMEL to the University of Arizona, in Tucson AZ. This transition provided CAMEL with resources and opportunities to collaborate with cancer biology researchers in the University of Arizona Cancer Center, and access to resources in the Departments of Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry & Biochemistry, and Medical Imaging, and the BIO5 Institute. The combination of these diverse resources and multidisciplinary collaborators has been essential to the continued productivity of CAMEL. Furthermore, the collaborative research environment at the University of Arizona has greatly facilitated the expansion of CAMEL’s research interests into optical imaging and clinical imaging. CAMEL has found an ideal home in the desert!