Chemical engineering trio bringing safer MRI contrast agent to market

By Cassie Montgomery

Published: Jun 23, 2020 11:40:00 AM

From left, Tareq Anani, Barry Yeh and Allan David From left, Tareq Anani, Barry Yeh and Allan David

The use of magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, to diagnose a wide variety of diseases and conditions is a widespread practice. In approximately one-third of MRI procedures, doctors administer an MRI contrast agent to help improve the diagnostic accuracy for conditions such as inflammatory and infectious diseases. But for nearly 2 million patients globally who have poor kidney function, these diagnostic tools are unavailable due to the risks associated with potential long-term toxicity from the contrast agent.

NanoXort LLC has a solution. Founded in 2018 by Auburn University chemical engineering postdoctoral fellows Tareq Anani and Barry Yeh with Allan David, the John E. Brown Associate Professor of chemical engineering, NanoXort’s mission is to provide safer diagnostic tools for patient populations that currently receive suboptimum care.

In collaboration with the Auburn University MRI Research Center, the trio developed a technology that could be used to reduce the toxicity of MRI contrast agents. Labeled diffusive magnetic fractionation (DMF), this technology enables fine control of the properties of magnetic nanomaterials.

“The lead products consist of iron oxide nanoparticles engineered to offer contrast enhancement in MRI and magnetic resonance angiography for patients with poor kidney function, who are unable to take current cadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs),” said Anani, who received a doctorate in chemical engineering from Auburn in 2017.

While the company made its official launch in late 2018, the foundation was laid in fall 2016 when the group participated in the Southern Regional Cohort of the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program at Georgia Tech. There they learned about the MRI contrast industry and were able to evaluate the need for new, safer MRI contrast agents. The team then went on to participate in the national I-Corps program after receiving a $50,000 grant to conduct additional customer discovery in the United States and Europe.

“We then went on to win the Auburn University LAUNCH award that allowed us to conduct additional preclinical studies,” Anani said. “The combination of identifying a market opportunity and having a patented technology that could solve a significant clinical problem convinced us to start our company, NanoXort LLC.”

The name NanoXort has direct ties to the company’s core focus – the sorting of nanoparticles of different sizes into a homogenous product with optimal properties for biomedical applications, he explained.

“Our Ph.D. work in chemical engineering was relevant as it was focused on the development of nanomaterials and the core separation technology to improve potential for clinical translation. We also conducted extensive testing of nanomaterials in the lab and using animal models, which informs our plans going forward,” Anani said.

NanoXort has submitted proposals to several funding agencies and is still in the process of acquiring funds to support growth.

Media Contact: Cassie Montgomery, cmontgomery@auburn.edu, 334.844.3668

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