Cancer Institute A national cancer institute
designated cancer center
Email this profile
Portrait View Larger

Christopher H. Contag

Academic Appointments

  • Professor of Pediatrics (Neonatology), of Microbiology and Immunology and, by courtesy, of Radiology

Contact Information

  • Academic Offices
    Personal Information
    Alternate Contact
    Lorraine Ceron Faculty Administrative Associate Tel Work 650-725-6583


Dr. Contag, is a Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics, Radiology and Microbiology & Immunology at Stanford University, and a member of BioX Faculty for interdisciplinary sciences, and Immunology Faculty. Dr. Contag received his B.S. in Biology from the University of Minnesota, St. Paul in 1982. He received his Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis in 1988 where he did his dissertation research under the direction of Professors Ashley Haase and Peter Plagemann on the topic of viral infections of the central nervous system. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University from 1990-1994 in the Department of Microbiology where he studied mother-to-infant transmission of HIV, and then joined the faculty in Pediatrics at Stanford in 1995 with a joint appointment in Microbiology and Immunology and a courtesy appointment in Radiology. Dr. Contag is the Associate Chief of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine, director of Stanford’s Center for Innovation in In Vivo Imaging (SCI3) and co-director of the Molecular Imaging Program at Stanford (MIPS). Dr. Contag is a pioneer in the field of molecular imaging and is developing imaging approaches aimed at revealing molecular processes in living subjects, including humans, and advancing therapeutic strategies through imaging. His laboratory develops macroscopic and microscopic optical imaging tools and uses imaging to assess tissue responses to stress, reveal immune cell migration patterns, understand stem cell biology and advance biological therapies. He is a founding member, and a past president of the Society for Molecular Imaging, and for his fundamental contributions in imaging, is a recipient of the Achievement Award from the Society for the Molecular Imaging. Dr. Contag is a Fellow of the World Molecular Imaging Society (WMIS) and currently President Elect of WMIS. The research mission of the Contag laboratory is to develop and use noninvasive imaging tools that can simultaneously reveal the nuances of biological processes and provide an overall picture of disease states for the purpose of developing and refining novel interventions. These imaging tools are sensitive and image over a range of scales from micro- to macroscopic, and are well-suited for the in vivo study of cellular and molecular biology. For the purpose of studying tumor biology in vivo, the Contag group is developing, and using, advanced microscopic tools with the aims of detecting and studying cancer at high resolution in vivo. These approaches use micro-optics to develop miniaturized cofocal microscopes and Raman endoscopes that can reach inside the body to interrogate disease states. This is enabling point-of-care microscopy that is changing the diagnostic paradigm from biopsy and histopathology to in vivo pathology. The opportunity to study tumor margins with arrays of microscopes will enable improved tumor detection and guided resections.

Academic Appointments

Administrative Appointments

  • Associate Chief, Division of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine (2010 - present)
  • Director, Stanford Center for Innovation in In Vivo Imaging (SCI^3) (2000 - present)
  • Co-director, Molecular Imaging Program at Stanford (MIPS) (2003 - present)
  • Director, Stanford Center for Photomedicine (2008 - 2012)
  • Chair, Scientific Advisory Board--Xenogen Corp. (1997 - 2005)

Honors and Awards

  • President Elect, World Molecular Imaging Society (2014-2015)
  • Fellow, World Molecular Imaging Society (2012)
  • Achievement Award, Society for Molecular Imaging (2006)
  • President, Society for Molecular Imaging (2002-2003)
  • President elect, Society for Molecular Imaging (2001-2002)
  • Award, American Federation for Clinical Research (AFCR). Upjohn Infectious Disease Prize (1995)
View All 8honors and awards of Christopher Contag

Professional Education

Ph.D.: University of Minnesota, Microbiology (1988)
BS: University of Minnesota, Biology (1982)

Research & Scholarship

Current Research and Scholarly Interests

Mammalian biology occurs in complex environments of living tissues and complex organ structures where there is potential for rapid change, and therefore we use multimodality imaging approaches to study the dynamics of biological processes. These strategies have cellular resolution and molecular specificity, and can reveal dynamic changes as they occur in the living body. We have developed imaging approaches based on optical reporter genes and have used them to reveal immune cell trafficking patterns, regulation of gene expression, extent of tumor growth, stem cell biology, and nature of host responses to infection. Our initial experimental approach was based on the observation that light can pass through mammalian tissues, much the same as when light from a flashlight is shined through one's hand in a dark room. The source of light in our approach is internal; that is, we use genes originating from fireflies and other "glow-in-the-dark" (bioluminescent) organisms to mark mammalian cells and pathogens. These labeled entities are then used in animal models of human biology and disease, and the light that they produce is externally monitored to reveal levels of expression, growth rate, or movement within tissue and organs. The strength of this method is that it can be used to simultaneously reveal the nuances of biological processes, and the overall biological response in living animals. Recently, we have revealed the kinetics of stem cell engraftment and hematopoietic reconstitution, elucidated the nature of minimal residual disease states following cancer therapy and identified tissue sites that pathogens use to evade the host immune response. Optical methods of molecular imaging are extremely powerful in preclinical models and have tremendous potential, but a wide range of tools is becoming available for studying biology in vivo. We therefore use many of these tools and approach biological questions with multimodality strategies. The focus of our efforts is the cells and molecules that control the body’s response to insult and enable regeneration of damaged tissues and organs.






Publication tag cloud

Publication Topics

View All 256

Stanford Medicine Resources:

Footer Links: