Zhonglin Liu, MD, MS

Research Professor, Medical Imaging
Email Address: 
Phone Number: 
(520) 626-4248

UACC Information

UACC Organizational Unit: 
Professional Bio: 

Dr. Liu received his medical degree from the China Medical University, China in 1984 and continued his education at the China Medical University in pursuit of an MS degree in Medical Imaging, which was awarded to him in 1991. He began his career as a Medical Resident in 1984 at the Second University Hospital, China Medical University, China, and Assistant Professor, Dept. of Nuclear Medicine in 1991. Dr. Liu accepted a position as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Dept. of Nuclear Cardiology at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, from 1995-2000. The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, extended an offer of Research Assistant Professor to Dr. Liu in 2000 to join the group of researchers in the Center for Gamma-Ray Imaging, funded by the National Institutes of Health. This opportunity allowed him to pursue his research in Nuclear Cardiology Imaging. Dr. Liu was promoted to Research Associate Professor in 2005 and has made considerable contributions to his research in publications and data collection. He was the winner of the Journal of Nuclear Medicine’s 2nd Paper Award for Basic Science Investigations, Society of Nuclear Medicine.

Dr. Liu has been engaged in research on nuclear medicine and molecular imaging for 20 years. His research focuses on characterizing and developing molecular imaging probes to study the cellular and molecular events of human disease. He implemented and validated a variety of animal tumor models, including xenografted and spontaneous tumors (colorectal cancer, breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, and skin cancer), to detect and quantify the pathogenetic development of cancer using molecular imaging probes and modern high-resolution SPECT imaging technologies. Using optical and novel direct positron/electron imaging techniques developed in their research center, he has established an imaging methodology in mouse tumor chamber model to study tumor microenvironment (TMI) modulation of colon cancer and interaction between TMI components and tumor cells.

Dr. Liu has achieved significantly in his research projects to radiolabel investigational drugs, antibodies, peptides, and other small molecules using 99mTc, 111In, and 123I/125I for specific molecular imaging, especially for inflammation imaging.  He has developed multiple recombinant cytokine radioligands for specific imaging of inflammation. Among those, 99mTc-labeled TNFR2-Fc-IL-1ra, a dual-domain cytokine radioligand, has shown higher-affinity targeting of inflammatory sites than its individual component radioligands, 99mTc-TNFR-Fc and 99mTc-IL-1ra-Fc. The bispecific cytokine radioligand has been well applied in research projects for specific detection of upregulated inflammation in ischemic-reperfused hearts, atherosclerotic plaques, and TMI. As PI on an NHLBI-funded project, he used the cytokine-targeted SPECT imaging technique to study ischemia-reperfusion injury and post-infarct ventricular remodeling.

Dr. Liu has a strong interest in development of fluorescent and radiolabeled small molecule peptides for specific imaging of colorectal cancer (CRC). Currently, he is working with his research partner, Dr. Brian Gray at the Molecular Targeting Technologies, Inc., to validate a new family of radiolabeled CRC-targeting probes for single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) imaging using a small peptide with the amino-acid sequence CTPSPFSHC (TCP-1). The novel generation of radiolabeled TCP-1 peptides will combine the specificity, ease of production, and stability for in vivo imaging of CRC.

Dr. Liu is collaborating with Drs. David Alberts and Bhaskar Banerjee at UACC to validate a specific, noninvasive imaging technique for detection of CRC that will recognize early pathological processes in asymptomatic patients or individuals who are susceptible to cancer. His research experience and personal interest in the development of molecular imaging probes have fully prepared him to support the Cancer Center Support Grant Renewal.

Research Information

Research Program: 
Cancer Imaging
Member Status: 
Research Member
Summary of Research Activity: 

I have been engaged in research on nuclear medicine and molecular imaging for 20 years. My research focuses on characterizing and developing radiotracers to study the cellular and molecular events in cardiovascular disease and cancer. I implemented and validated a variety of small-animal models, including ischemic and non-ischemic heart models, atherosclerotic mouse models, and tumor models to detect and quantify the pathogenetic development using radiotracers and high-resolution SPECT imaging technology. I am actively engaged in radiolabeling investigational drugs, antibodies, peptides, and other small molecules using 99mTc, 111In, and 123I/125I for specific molecular imaging. I have developed multiple recombinant cytokine radioligands for specific imaging of inflammation. Among those, 99mTc-labeled TNFR2-Fc-IL-1ra, a dual-domain cytokine radioligand, has shown higher-affinity targeting of inflammatory sites than its individual component radioligands, 99mTc-TNFR-Fc and 99mTc-IL-1ra-Fc. The bispecific cytokine radioligand has been well applied in research projects for specific detection of upregulated inflammation in ischemic-reperfused hearts and atherosclerotic plaques. As PI on an NHLBI-funded project, I am using the cytokine-targeted SPECT imaging technique to study ischemia-reperfusion injury and post-infarct ventricular remodeling.

As a current core project leader in the Center for Gamma-Ray Imaging funded by NIH/NIBIB P41 grant, I have coordinated multiple collaborating projects with both internal researchers and outside project teams and provided strong technology support to biomedical investigators. My research experience in nuclear imaging, radiotracer development, and animal models has fully prepared me for taking on the challenges of this P41 grant renewal application to direct the CGRI Service component as a service director. I will lead my staff and interact with collaborators to perform preclinical studies efficiently.  

Selected Publications: 
  1. Liu Z, Kastis G A, Stevenson G D, Barrett H H, Furenlid L R, Kupinski M A, Patton D R, and Wilson D W, Quantitative analysis of acute myocardial infarction in rat hearts with ischemia-reperfusion using a high-resolution stationary SPECT system, J. Nucl. Medi., 43:933-939, 2002. PMC3062997
  2. Liu Z, Stevenson G D, Barrett H H, Kastis G A, Bettan M, Furenlid L R, Wilson D W, and Woolfenden J M, Imaging recognition of multidrug resistance in human breast tumors using 99mTc-labeled monocationic agents and a high-resolution stationary SPECT system, Nucl. Medi. Biol., 31:53-65, 2004.  PMC3062994
  3. Liu Z, Stevenson G D, Barrett H H, Kastis G A, Bettan M, Furenlid L R, Wilson D W, Woolfenden J M, and Pak K Y, 99mTc-glucarate high-resolution imaging of drug-sensitive and drug-resistant human breast cancer xenografts in SCID mice, Nucl. Medi. Commun., 25:711-720, 2004.  PMC2946081
  4. Liu Z, Stevenson G D, Kastis G A, Barrett H H, Bettan M, Furenlid L R, Wilson D W, and Pak K Y, High-resolution imaging with 99mTc-glucarate for assessing myocardial injury in rat models exposed to different durations of ischemia with reperfusion, J. Nucl. Medi., 45:1251-1259, 2004. PMC2586845
  5. Liu Z, Stevenson G D, Barrett H H, Kastis G A, Bettan M, Furenlid L R, Wilson D W, and Woolfenden J M, Imaging recognition of inhibition of multidrug resistance in human breast cancer xenografts using 99mTc-labeled sestamibi and tetrofosmin, Nucl. Medi. Biol., 32;573-583, 2005. PMC1402231
  6. Liu Z, Zhao M, Zhu X, Furenlid L R, Chen Y-C, Barrett H H, In vivo dynamic imaging of myocardial cell death using 99mTc-labeled C2A domain of Synaptotagmin I in a rat model of ischemia and reperfusion, Nucl. Medi. Biol., 34:907-915, 2007. PMC2515710
  7. Liu Z, Barrett H H, Stevenson G D, Furenlid L R, Wilson D W, Woolfenden J M, and Pak K Y, Evaluating the Protective Role of Ischemic Preconditioning in Rat Hearts Using a Stationary Small-Animal SPECT Imager and 99mTc-Glucarate, Nucl. Medi. Commun., 29:120-128, 2008. PMC2586977
  8. Liu Z, Chen L, Liu S, Barber C, Stevenson GD, Furenlid LR, Barrett HH, and Woolfenden JM, Kinetic characterization of a novel cationic 99mTc(I)-tricarbonyl complex, 99mTc-15C5-PNP, for myocardial perfusion imaging, J. Nucl. Cardio., 17:858–867, 2010.PMC2940957
  9. Cai M, Liu Z, Qu H, Fan H, Zheng Z, Hruby V J, Utilize conjugated melanotropins for the earlier diagnosis and treatment of Melanoma,Eur. J. Pharmacol., 660: 188-193, 2011. PMC3095766
  10. Dwyer R M, Ryan J, Havelin R H, Morris J C, Miller B W, Liu Z, Flavin R, O’Flatharta C, Foley M J, Barrett H H, Murphy M, Barry F P, O’Brien T, Kerin M J, Mesenchymal Stem Cell (MSC) mediated delivery of the Sodium Iodide Symporter (NIS) supports radionuclide imaging and treatment of breast cancer. Stem Cells, 29:1149-1157, 2011. [PMID: 21608083], (PMC Journal – In Process)
  11. Wyffels L, Gray B D, Barber C, Woolfenden J M, Pak K Y, Liu Z, Synthesis and preliminary evaluation of radiolabeled bis(zinc(II)-dipicolylamine) coordination complexes as cell death imaging agents,Bioorg. Med. Chem., 19:3425-33, 2011. PMC3102142
  12. Liu Z, Wyffels L, Barber C, Hui M M, Woolfendena J M, A 99mTc-Labeled dual-domain cytokine ligand for imaging of inflammation, Nucl. MedI. Biol., 38:795-805, 2011.PMC3156989
  13. Wyffels L, Gray B D, Barber C, Pak K Y, Forbes S, Jeffrey A, Mattis J A, Woolfenden J M, Liu Z, Detection of myocardial ischemia-reperfusion injury using a fluorescent near-infrared zinc(II)-dipicolylamine probe and 99mTc-glucarate. Mol. Imaging, 11:187-196, 2012. [PMID: 22554483] (PMC Journal – In Process)
  14. Liu Z, wyffel L, Barber C, Wan L, Xu H, Hui M M, Furenlid L R, Woolfenden J M, Characterization of 99mTc-labeled cytokine ligands for inflammation imaging via TNF and IL-1 pathways. Nucl. Medi. Biol., 39:905-915, 2012. PMC3443298
  15. Zhang Y, Stevenson G D, Barber C, Furenlid L R, Barrett H H, Woolfenden J M, Liu Z,  Imaging of rat cerebral ischemia-reperfusion injury using 99mTc-labeled duramycin, Nucl. Medi. Biol., 40:80-88, 2013.PMC3632380

Academic Information

Medical School: 
China Medical University, China, 1984
Master's Degree: 
M.S. Medical Imaging, China Medical University, 1991