Center for Small Animal Imaging

What we can do for you:

Our center has in vivo and ex vivo imaging capabilities of small animals and tissue samples via magnetic resonance imaging, x-ray/X-ray CT, Positron emission (PET) and single photon emission and bioluminesence/fluorescence imaging. We provide training for users on ultrasound and optical imaging, and provide expert instrument operators for other modalities. We also provide expert support/training for data/image analysis.




The Center for Small Animal Imaging (CSAI) is a comprehensive resource of state-of-the art biomedical imaging instruments spanning a wide range of modalities, including MRI, X-ray/X-ray CT, PET, SPECT, ultrasound, bioluminescence and fluorescence. These instruments provide a means of quantitative and radiological evaluation of pre-clinical models of disease, including cancers and numerous neurological and musculoskeletal disorders. The CSAI also serves as a primary laboratory for many VUIIS faculty who are active in the development of imaging technologies, including instrument design, molecular imaging innovation, and novel imaging characterization of tissue micro-anatomy and function.


Recommended citations for S10-funded instruments








4.7T Small Animal MRI/MRS

Mark D. Does

Daniel Colvin


The 4.7T 31-cm bore Varian DirectDrive scanner is a fully broad-banded imaging/spectroscopy system equipped with actively shielded gradients (40 G/cm, rise times full amplitude of 130 μs), two independent transmit and one independent receive channels. Three transmit/receive quadrature imaging volume coils are available: 38 mm Litz coil (mouse), 63 mm birdcage coil(rat), and 160 mm birdcage coil (rabbit). System operation and animal prep support can be provided based on availability and need. The VUIIS provides computer access for data processing.


7.0T Small Animal MRI/MRS

Mark D. Does

Daniel C. Colvin


Three transmit/receive quadrature volume coils are available: 25 mm (mouse head), 38 mm (mouse body), and 72 mm (rat body), and the 72 mm coil can also be used with a 4-channel receive array suitable for rat head or mouse body. System operation and animal prep support can be provided based on availability and need


9.4T Small Animal MRI/MRS

Mark D. Does

Daniel C. Colvin


The 9.4T 21-cm bore Bruker Avance NEO scanner is a fully broad-banded imaging/spectroscopy system equipped with actively shielded gradients (40 G/cm, rise times full amplitude of 135 μs), two independent 1H transmit/receive channels, a broadband transmit/receive channel, and four independent receive-only channels. Three transmit/receive quadrature imaging volume coils are available: 38mm Litz coil (mouse), 63mm birdcage coil (rat), and 85mm birdcage coil. A variety of X-nuclei surface coils are also available. System operation and animal prep support can be provided based on availability and need. The VUIIS provides computer access for data processing.


15.2T Small Animal MRI/MRS

Mark D. Does

Daniel C. Colvin


The 15.2T Bruker Biospec Avance III, 11cm horizontal bore scanner is a fully broadband imaging system equipped with 6 cm inner diameter actively shielded gradients (up to 100 G/cm, 107 μs rise time to max amplitude), and independent 1H and X nuclei transmit and receive channels. Three quadrature imaging coils are currently available: 35 mm volume birdcage coil (mouse), 35 mm volume birdcage coil for mouse and rat brain from Doty Scientific, Inc (Columbia, SC), and a closed cycle helium cryoprobe (quadrature surface coil) for high-resolution in vivo mouse imaging.


Siemens Inveon PET/CT

Todd Peterson

Noor Tantawy


The Siemens Inveon multimodality PET/CT imaging scanner is capable of providing three dimensional CT and PET images of live mouse and rat as well as fixed samples. The system can deliver high resolution CT images (<10 µM for a field-of-view <20mm) with a maximum field-of-view of 80 mm X 50 mm (with a resolution of approximately 50 µM). The minimum resolution achievable with the PET scanner is approximately 1 mm (maximum field-of-view of 120 mm) with a high sensitivity in pico-Molar range. 


Bioscan NanoSPECT/CT

Todd Peterson

Noor Tantawy


The Bioscan NanoSPECT/CT system combines a single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) system with an x-ray CT. The SPECT system consists of four gamma cameras, each of which is outfitted with a nine-pinhole imaging aperture. Three different sets of pinhole apertures are available: one set for rat imaging (2.5 mm diameter pinholes), one set for high-sensitivity mouse imaging (1.4 mm diameter pinholes), and one set for high-resolution mouse imaging (1.0 mm diameter pinholes). The system is capable of acquiring dynamic images as well as dual-isotope imaging. All standard SPECT radionuclides can be accommodated (99mTc, 125I, 123I, 111In). The x-ray CT scanner and SPECT system are fully integrated and aligned such that co-registered CT images provide anatomical information to assist in interpretation and analysis of the SPECT images.

Several radiotracers are routinely available from the VUMC radiopharmacy, including 99mTc-sestamibi, 99mTc-pertechnetate, 99mTc-MDP, and 99mTc-MAG3.


Autoradiography Noor Tantawy


Biospace Lab Micro Imager


Scanco vivaCT80 Jeff Nyman


The vivaCT80 is an X-ray CT scanner for in vivo imaging of small animals with a maximum diameter of 90 mm and isotropic image voxels as small as 5 um with a radiation dose low enough for repeated in vivo scans. This system is supported by the same analytical and visualization software as the Scanco specimen scanners.


Scanco uCT40 and Scanco uCT50 Jeff Nyman


The Scanco uCT40 and uCT50 are x-ray CT scanners for obtaining and analyzing three-dimensional images of ex vivo specimens soft and hard tissues and materials. These state-of-the-art instruments are capable of producing images with voxel sizes as small as 6 um and 0.5 um, depending on specimen size, and can accommodate specimens as large as 36 mm or 48 mm in diameter, respectively. Both instruments are supported by cluster of seven HP Integrity servers for parallel processing on 42 CPU cores using a powerful suite of software designed by the manufacturer. The software suite contains several standardized and accepted methods for image reconstruction, VOI selection, segmentation, and analysis of structural, volumetric, and densitometric parameters. Additionally, we have extensive experience creating custom analytical algorithms within the Image Processing Language framework for a wide array of applications. Once created by our support team, these custom analyses can easily be executed by novice users through the Scanco Evaluation software. Visualization of three-dimensional renderings can be accomplished in the manufacturer’s software or images can be exported to a number of standard file formats for viewing in other commercially available software and/or coregistration with other imaging modalities. Users are trained VUIIS personnel. 


Faxitron XRAY Jeff Nyman


The Faxitron LX-60 X-ray system is utilized to produce highly detailed radiographs of small animals. The system’s large 12 cm x 12 cm camera offers exceptional 10 lp/mm spatial resolution in the contact mode. Magnification allows for spatial resolution of up to 60 lp/mm. The 20 μm nominal focal spot and additional geometric magnification provide ultra high-contrast and high spatial resolution images.


CRI Maestro Optical Jarrod True


The CRI Maestro optical imaging system is designed primarily for in vivo fluorescence imaging. The Maestro is capable of background discrimination (autofluorescence) using spectral un-mixing techniques.


IVIS Spectrum

Wellington Pham

Jarrod True


PerkinElmer IVIS Spectrum. The IVIS Spectrum offers an optimized set of 28 high efficiency filters spanning 430-850 nm and spectral un-mixing algorithms that let you take full advantage of bioluminescent and fluorescent reporters across the blue to near infrared wavelength region. It also offers single-view 3D tomography for both fluorescent and bioluminescent reporters that can be analyzed in an anatomical context using PerkinElmer's Digital Mouse Atlas or registered with their multimodality module to other tomographic technologies such as MR, CT or PET.

For advanced fluorescence pre-clinical imaging, the IVIS Spectrum has the capability to use either trans-illumination (from the bottom) or epi-illumination (from the top) to illuminate in vivo fluorescent sources. 3D diffuse fluorescence tomography can be performed to determine source localization and concentration using the combination of structured light and trans illumination fluorescent images. The instrument is equipped with 10 narrow band excitation filters (30nm bandwidth) and 18 narrow band emission filters (20nm bandwidth) that assist in significantly reducing autofluorescence by the spectral scanning of filters and the use of spectral unmixing algorithms. In addition, the spectral unmixing tools allow the researcher to separate signals from multiple fluorescent reporters within the same animal.


Visen FMT2500 Jarrod True


The FMT 2500 LX is a 3D fluorescence tomographic system with the ability to quantitate up to four fluorophores emitting 660, 700, 775 and 805nm wavelengths (excitation lights at 635, 670, 746 and 790nm, respectively). The emission signals are captured by a cooled-CCD and the data is processed using TrueQuantTM software. The algorithm takes into account tissue heterogeneity in reconstruction of the 3D image. FMT data can be co-registered with other imaging modalities based on the fiduciary marks on the imaging cassette that holds the subject. This is useful for many applications including oncology, inflammation and cardiovascular disease.


VisualSonics 770 High Resolution Ultrasound

Jarrod True


The VisualSonics 770 High-Resolution Imaging System enables visualization, assessment, and measurement of anatomical structures and hemodynamic function in noninvasive imaging studies of small animals. B-mode (2D and 3D), power Doppler (2D and 3D), M-mode, and pulsed-Doppler imaging mode are available for anatomical, cardiac and flow analysis, respectively. Contrast enhanced tecnhiques are also available that allow for quantification of blood flow and for targeting VEGFR-2 cell surface receptors. The high frequency at which the 770 operates (20-55MHz) allows for achieving spatial resolution down to 30 microns; currently the highest spatial resolution available in real time imaging. System operation and animal preparation support can be provided based on availability and need.


Prep/Monitoring Jarrod True


All animal studies must have prior IACUC approval. Animal ventilators, anesthesia machines, and physiological monitoring systems are available for all imaging systems in the CSAI. Users may be billed for additional anesthetics, gases and animal prep supplies.