The University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine, Knoxville

The Molecular Imaging & Translational Research Program

The Molecular Imaging & Translational Research Program (MITRP) is a multidisciplinary group of researchers that supports translational imaging research and serves as a research hub for the department of radiology.

The Mission

The goal of the Molecular Imaging & Translational Research Program (MITRP) is to create a multi-disciplinary center for cutting edge imaging research, education, and development of biomarker applications for preclinical and clinical imaging studies with a strong focus on molecular imaging.

The Program

The MITRP is jointly positioned in the Department of Radiology within the University of Tennessee Medical Center and the University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine. As such, our team is uniquely positioned to support clinical and basic science research imaging efforts. This relationship creates an effective bridge between clinicians, hospital staff, and researchers that facilitates clinical use of novel cutting edge imaging technologies, high quality research, and collaborations both within the department and with external partners.

The group is overseen within the Department of Radiology by our Radiology Chair, Jeff Peeke, MD and is supported through clinical operations overseen by our radiology executive director Jennifer Debow, MBA, BSN, RN.

Our group comprises two primary components, Clinical and Tracer Development, and is directed by Dustin Osborne, PhD, DABSNM, Associate Professor. Over the last decade, our research efforts have resulted in more than 40 peer-reviewed publications, more than 100 conference abstracts, and other miscellaneous achievements including: patents, book chapters, awards, and more.
Our range of imaging and chemistry expertise along with our robust facilities enables us to perform our own research as well as offer a wide range of collaborative research support, including:


Our clinical support efforts are broken into two primary categories and supported by two clinical research leaders that serve as imaging specialists and clinical study coordinators.

Clinical Research

Clinical research efforts focus on creating new collaborations between physicians and scientists to develop new imaging technologies and applications that improve clinical outcomes and the quality of patient care. Our clinical research work is bolstered by interdepartmental relationships with academic departments, such as computer science, and biomedical engineering, as well as industry to provide unique educational and work experiences. Our research is made possible by our support of, and access to, clinical PET/CT operations where our team works to facilitate day-to-day clinical services while also maintaining our state-of-the-art PET/CT imaging capabilities.

Clinical Trials

Our clinical research enterprise facilitates clinical trials within the organization using a novel strategy to support the critical logistics of trials while not impacting routine clinical care for our patients. We support a range of clinical trials activities in the department of radiology from initial review of protocols to execution of imaging studies. Our review processes ensure that new trials have the resources and infrastructure to adequately support the study while our clinical research staff supports the necessary regulatory and imaging study work collection of the key imaging data for molecular imaging studies.

Tracer Development

Our tracer development functions are broken into two primary categories with tracer development are efforts overseen by Murthy Akula, PhD, Associate Professor and supported by our radiochemistry postdoctoral scholar Derek Cressy, PhD.


Radiochemistry efforts are focused on the development of novel biomarkers and novel synthesis methods. Our radiochemistry facilities consist of organic laboratories for the development and manufacturing of chemical precursors as well as radioactive hot labs with automated synthesis systems to perform radioactive isotope labeling of targeted small molecules. These labs include access to a full range of radiochemical product testing equipment to assess final products for quality and purity.


Our radiopharmacy research focuses on support of small-scale investigator-initiated studies typically under the auspices of our Radioactive Drug Research Committee and following USP 823 guidelines for PET compound manufacturing. For these studies, basic science assessments of PET radiopharmaceuticals are performed in conjunction with our state-of-the-art PET/CT imaging facilities to obtain dynamic acquisitions that can be used for biodistribution assessments and kinetic modeling. Our radiopharmacy efforts also work to develop appropriate production routines, quality control, testing, and release criteria for possible radiopharmaceutical targets.


Our clinical research facilities are housed in the state-of-the-art University of Tennessee Medical Center Cancer Institute that opened in September 2012. Our facilities include dedicated imaging and control suites, injection room and a three-patient post-injection waiting area. This facility is a joint effort of the Graduate School of Medicine and University Health Systems where our dedicated research staff work together with our clinical imaging staff to provide the best possible patient experience and the most advanced PET/CT imaging technology.
Our 4,200 sqft. radiochemistry facilities are housed adjacent to our onsite cyclotron operated by PETNET Solutions, Inc. Our chemistry areas feature two dedicated organic chemistry labs for precursor development and organic molecule synthesis. Our radiochemistry designated labs feature:

Through University of Tennessee chemistry collaborations, we have access to the following organic product identification techniques:

We also have 3D printing capabilities enabling rapid prototyping and 3D modeling of clinical disease. Our system is a basic setup but has a print volume of 12 in. x 9 in. x 9 in. and can print in a wide array of plastics. To support this functionality, we also have access to a number of imaging and modeling analysis tools for creating and editing the 3D models for printing.


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