Biological and Medical Imaging

ERC Advanced Grant for Prof. Dr. Vasilis Ntziachristos

The European Research Council (ERC) has granted one of its most prestigious scientific awards, an Advanced Grant, to Prof. Dr. Vasilis Ntziachristos, Director of the Institute of Biological and Medical Imaging (IBMI) at Helmholtz Zentrum München. The grant amounts to a total of EUR 2.49 million over five years. Prof. Ntziachristos pioneered the field of optoacoustic tomography, a non-invasive imaging technique and his research focusses on the continuous improvement of the modality and its clinical translation.

Prof. Ntziachristos

Prof. Dr. Vasilis Ntziachristos, Source: Astrid Eckert & Andreas Heddergott / TU München

The ERC supports excellent basic research in Europe in order to promote visionary projects and to develop new interdisciplinary fields of knowledge. The experts see this immense potential in the technology to be developed in Prof. Ntziachristos’ ERC project PREMSOT (Precision Multi-Spectral Optoacoustic Tomography for Discovery Diagnosis and Intervention).

Precision 3D images through laser pulses

The technology enables precise non-invasive 3D deep tissue imaging by utilizing weak laser pulses to slightly heat the targeted region in the body. As a consequence, the tissue briefly expands and generates ultrasound waves, which are detected by appropriate sensors and “translated” into three-dimensional images.  

Importantly, this technique allows direct long-term patient monitoring without exposure to radiation or a contrast medium, which presents a tremendous benefit for the patient. “The technology has already demonstrated initial success in determining metastatic disease in melanoma patients,” says Prof. Ntziachristos. “Thanks to the MSOT technology, detection of this cancer type could now be achieved earlier without the need for biopsies or surgery.” Following this lead, additional clinical MSOT studies in various fields of application including breast and thyroid cancer as well as peripheral atherosclerosis are currently underway.

Live monitoring of drug action in the body

Moreover, MSOT can also be applied to monitor/assess drug distribution or oxygen saturation in tissues*, both identified as unmet clinical needs by the clinical end users. With the grant money approved for PREMSOT the team around Prof. Ntziachristos will develop a low-cost portable device for human use**. In the future, this imaging platform may be used during surgery or in diagnostics to assess pathophysiological parameters in real time and to monitor treatment efficacy.

From the technical point of view, Prof. Ntziachristos and his team aim at further improving the sensitivity of the technology and to reduce its current limitations in order to reliably visualize inflammation as well as metabolic and neurologic parameters.

PREMSOT is funded within the EU framework Horizon 2020*** as one of the 277 projects selected from a total of approximately 2,000 submissions.


Further Information


Prof. Ntziachristos already received an ERC Advanced Grant in 2008 – a second award is a special honor. The first grant resulted in more than 100 scientific articles and in 2011 Prof. Ntziachristos founded iThera Medical GmbH as a spin-off company which is offering MSOT technology on the global market ever since. Furthermore, Prof. Ntziachristos was awarded the German Innovation Prize in 2014.

* The supply of oxygen is indispensable for life. Therefore, the degree of tissue oxygenation is an essential readout for physicians to determine a patient's condition, for instance during a medical intervention. This is of particular importance in unconscious patients where respective measurements can provide early indications of a forthcoming clinical shock or impending failure of vital organs giving the physicians the opportunity to initiate preventive measures early on.

** The development of a mobile hand-held diagnostic scanner will enable physicians to perform examinations quickly and easily. A new low-cost diagnostic device able to detect/monitor a variety of diseases and emergency situations in advance ensures timely preventive interventions and provides a tremendous benefit for physicians and patients at the same time.

*** Horizon 2020 is the EU framework program for research and innovation of the European Commission and is scheduled to run from 2014 to 2020.

The Helmholtz Zentrum München, the German Research Center for Environmental Health, pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches to the prevention and therapy of major common diseases such as diabetes and lung disease. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München has about 2,300 staff members and is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. It is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 18 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 37,000 staff members. The Helmholtz Zentrum München is a partner in the German Center for Diabetes Research.

The Institute for Biological and Medical Imaging (IBMI) conducts research into in vivo imaging technologies for the biosciences. It develops systems, theories and methods of imaging and image reconstruction as well as animal models to test new technologies at the biological, preclinical and clinical level. The aim is to provide innovative tools for biomedical laboratories, for diagnosis and for the therapeutic monitoring of human diseases.