Preclinical Imaging

MIC’s Preclinical Imaging Core is dedicated to research studies of small animals for a variety of applications. The Core facility is staffed with trained machine operators and animal technologists. MIC faculty are active in developing novel methods of imaging to obtain new types of information as well as in applying current methods to study a wide range of biomedical questions. The pre-clinical versions of PET, CT, Ultrasound scanners in our facility provide information from studies in pre-clinical models, which can be directly translated to clinical settings. In addition to the structural and functional data provided by each instrument listed below, supplemental data can also be acquired using autoradiography and biodistribution studies. In addition, optical imaging studies provide gene reporter analysis using transgenic models or tumor cell lines with luciferase or fluorescence measurements of labeled molecule distribution using quantum dot nanotechnology.
The Molecular Imaging Laboratories at USC are an adjacent, shared-use vivaria and animal holding facilities. These facilities are supplemented by an image processing laboratory on the first floor of the same building, as well as a PET clinic and a biochemistry laboratory in other buildings on the USC Health Sciences campus. The Small Animal Imaging Laboratory (1200 sq. ft) comprises two adjacent rooms. Equipment housed in the Laboratory is highlighted below, a more detailed description of the imaging modalities is provided in the Equipment section.

preclinical-mice imaging

I want to use:

Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

PET images are acquired from from rats, mice by recording high-energy γ-rays emitted from within the subject. The source of the radiation comes from positron-emitting-bound biological molecules, such as 18F-FDG (fludeoxyglucose), which is injected into the animal.
Make An Appointment Now

Computed Tomography (CT)

CT imaging works through X-rays that are emitted from a focused radiation source that is rotated around the test subject placed in the middle of the CT scanner. The X-ray is attenuated at different rates depending on the density of tissue it is passing through, and is then picked up by sensors on the opposite end of the CT scanner from the emission source.
Make An Appointment Now

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

MRI exploits the nuclear magnetic alignments of different atoms inside a magnetic field to generate images. MRI machines consist of large magnets that generate magnetic fields around the target of analysis.
Make An Appointment Now

High-frequency Micro-Ultrasound

Ultrasound imaging works through the generation of harmless sound waves from transducers into living systems. As the sound waves propagate through tissue, they are reflected back and picked up by the transducer, and can then be translated into 2D and 3D images.
Make An Appointment Now

Photoacoustic imaging

Demo ContentPhotoacoustic imaging is a new in vivo hybrid imaging modality that combines the sensitivity and contrast of optical imaging with the depth and resolution of ultrasound. When pulsed laser light illuminates tissue, the optical absorbers there (such as hemoglobin) undergo thermoelastic expansion, generating an acoustic pressure wave which is detected with an ultrasound transducer.
Make An Appointment Now

Optical Imaging

Fluorescence Imaging - works on the basis of fluorochromes inside the subject that are excited by an external light source, and which emit light of a different wavelength in response.
Bioluminescence Imaging - on the other hand, is based on light generated by chemiluminescent enzymatic reactions. In both fluorescence and bioluminescence imaging.
<a href=""><strong>Make An Appointment Now</strong></a>

Gamma Counter

Offers multilabel counting efficiencies for more sophisticated research applications such as PET. This single detector, universal counter sets a new standard in background reduction.
Make An Appointment Now


Perform high resolution filmless autoradiography of gene arrays, lectrophoresis gels, blots, thin layer chromatography samples,
and tissue section.
Make An Appointment Now



Echocardiography, positron emission tomography (PET) and computed tomography (CT) can be used for anatomic and functional imaging of the heart. MIC offers high resolution, high sensitivity small animal imaging modalities that support cardiovascular research in multiple animal models of human cardiovascular disease. The imaging modalities can support various applications including, but not limited to:

• Detailed visualization (down to 30 microns) and quantification of cardiac function in real time in conscious or unconscious mice with high frequency small animal ultrasound (Visual Sonics)

• Quantitative evaluation of cardiovascular system with the associated major vessels

• Assessment of metabolic status of cardiac myocardium with 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose and or other metabolic tracers such as 18F based fatty acid tracers (18F-FTHA)

• Angiography with computed tomography

• Visualization and quantification of blood vessel changes down to capillary level in ex vivo hearts using high resolution specimen CT scanners


The MIC offers high resolution, high sensitivity small animal imaging modalities that support cancer research in multiple animal models of oncology. The imaging modalities can support various applications including, but not limited to:

• High resolution ultrasound for image guided injections to generate orthotopic or metastatic xenograft models with human cancer cell lines (Visual Sonics)

• Measurement/monitoring of tumor growth non-invasively with multiple methods (e.g. bioluminescence imaging, ultrasound, CT)

• Measurement of tumor oxygenation content with photoacoustic imaging

• 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) imaging of tumors

• PET/CT imaging of molecular changes with custom tracers targeted against cellular proliferation (18F-FMAU,18F-FHBG), integrin expression (64CU-RGD) or other custom biomarkers

• PET/CT imaging of targeted gene therapy with HSV-TK vectors (18F-FHBG, 18F-FEAU)

• Determine angiogenesis and tumor perfusion rates with contrast enhanced high resolution ultrasound

• Lymph node imaging (ICG staining) with ultrasound

Biodistribution/PK studies

Direct or indirect labeling of novel compounds or cells coupled with high sensitivity imaging multi-modality imaging systems provide the opportunity for in vivo evaluation non-invasively and in real time. The technical expertise and imaging systems at the MIC can:

• Aid in labeling tracers/drugs with fluorescence or biologics with radiometals for in vivo studies.

• Allow investigators the opportunity to follow the distributive properties of novel compounds (both small molecule and biologics) or labeled cell populations in vivo for various therapeutic areas

• Visualize and quantify whole body biodistribution of exploratory compounds ranging from small molecules to biologics using fluorescence based optical imaging or PET

• Investigate multiple probes/targets simultaneously in vivo with multispectral fluorescence imaging

• Whole body distribution of radio-labeled targets or isotope with fluorine 18 or radiometalic (Copper 64, Zirconium 89) labeled compounds or targets

• Utilize imaged based quantification methods for kinetic modeling of radiotracers/radiolabeled drugs

• Conduct dosimetry studies

• Quantify tumor perfusion rates using contrast enhanced microbubbles (Visual Sonics)


Molecular imaging methods can be used to support research into the brain and the central nervous system through looking at:

• Whole brain glucose metabolism using 18F-FDG

• AmyvidTM (florbetapir F-18) imaging of amyloid imaging

• Traumatic brain injury

• Brain hemodynamics in the central nervous system of small animals (neurobiology)

• Development of novel tracers/drugs targeting the central nervous system

Developmental Biology

Improvements in the sensitivity of small animal imaging systems and the development of novel cell labeling probes and nanoparticles have paved the way for investigating mammalian development through a systems biology approach. The MIC offers imaging modalities that facilitate research in developmental biology and stem cell research by providing:

• High frequency ultrasound can be used to detect early pregnancy/implantation and monitor rodent embryonic development (Visual Sonics)

• Real time image guided needle injection and extractions into the embryos in utero or drugs, chemicals or genetic material etc

• High resolution microCT for visualization developmental defects in embryos

• Labeling of stem cells and tracking in vivo

Material Sciences

The MIC offers high resolution, high through-put specimen imaging modalities that support research in domains ranging from agriculture to metamaterial research. The imaging systems create platforms to perform 2D / 3D visualization, analysis and quantification of:

• Material composition
• Phase distributions
• Texture
• Pore space / Porosity / Pore Connectivity
• Fracture

Variety of materials including but not limited to:

• Foam
• Ceramic
• Composites
• Polymers
• Porous Rocks
• Stones
• Wood
• Hydroxyapatite
• Food samples

We also specialize in customizing software for research specific requirements such as:

• Creation of data specific filters to improve signal to noise ratio of the data

• Development of modules for automated image processing and analysis to bolster high-throughput analysis

• Creation of CAD models for advanced mechanical analysis such finite element (FE) analysis

• Visualization, analysis and quantification of FE results