Moritz Kircher, MD, PhD Back To 2015 Winners

2015 Winners


We study the development of multimodal molecular imaging nanoprobes for the combined pre- and intraoperative high precision imaging of cancer.

Our Raman nanoparticles represent molecular beacons that can point to the presence of cancer and precancerous lesions earlier and with higher accuracy than other imaging methods.

Our goal is to reduce morbidity and mortality of cancer by detecting it earlier and with higher precision via molecular imaging.

Moritz Kircher, MD, PhD, is an Associate Member in the Department of Radiology, and an Associate Professor of Radiology at Weill Cornell Medical College. Dr. Kircher received his MD/PhD from the Humboldt University in Berlin, in his native country Germany. Dr. Kircher then moved to the United States to pursue postdoctoral studies with Ralph Weissleder at the Center for Molecular Imaging Research at MGH, where he worked on novel MRI and smart optical nanoprobes for in vivo imaging of cell trafficking and enzyme expression in tumors. He then completed an internship in surgery at the Cleveland Clinic, and a residency in Radiology at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School, where he also served as chief resident. This was followed by a clinical fellowship in Magnetic Resonance Imaging at Stanford University and a simultaneous postdoctoral fellowship with Sam Gambhir at the Molecular Imaging Program at Stanford, where he developed the first triple-modality Raman-MRI-photoacoustic nanoparticle. In September 2010 he was recruited to MSKCC to build up a laboratory focused on nanoparticle-based cancer imaging while seeing patients on the Body Imaging Service. He has received several best paper awards from the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), the Lawrie B. Morrison Research Award from Harvard Medical School, an RSNA Research Scholar Award, the Neuroscience Scholar Award from The Dana Foundation, the Young Investigator Award at the 2012 World Molecular Imaging Conference, and the Walter-Friedrich Award from the German Society of Radiology. In 2014, he became the first Radiologist to receive the Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award.

Early detection and therapy of pancreatic cancer with SERRS-nanoparticles

Moritz-Kircher-labIn general, pancreatic cancer patients can only hope to be cured if their cancer is detected at a very small size. However, current diagnostic methods are rarely able to do so, and most cancers have already metastasized at the time of diagnosis.

“It is a great honor to receive this prize, but most importantly the additional funding will markedly accelerate our progress towards detecting pancreatic cancer much earlier than currently possible.”

We have developed a new generation of “molecular spies”, which can detect pancreatic cancer at a much earlier stage. Our nanospies are star-shaped and use a new technology called “Surface-Enhanced Resonance Raman Scattering” (“SERRS-nanostars”). They are injected into the bloodstream, survey the body, and seek out any tumor cells, while avoiding healthy cells. When one shines a laser on any part of the body that contains cancer cells, such as the pancreas, the SERRS-nanostars start to glow and allow a specialized camera to detect them. In this way, a physician is able to see if and exactly where a patient has tumor cells in their pancreas, even if they are invisibly small: the method can detect tumors as small as a 10th of a millimeter.

“To me, innovation means finding a solution to a problem that is important and that many people have previously tried to solve.”

With the funding of this grant, we will not only refine these unique imaging capabilities, but also integrate novel therapeutic weapons into the SERRS-nanostars. The goal is that in the future pancreatic cancer can be found so early that these small tumors can be destroyed without having to perform major surgeries. This can be achieved by heating the SERRS-nanostars with a laser, causing the surrounding tumor cells to die, while normal tissue remains unharmed.